I was fortunate enough today to get an invitation to #tastybytes, a luncheon sponsored by the folks at Compete, which focused this afternoon on location-based marketing.
(Thank you, Tyson Goodridge at Dialogue – I know it was a good lunch because I left with about five ideas I’d like to try with LBS and news and/or clients.)
But the session got me thinking about “check ins”, which was one of the early topics. As most of you reading this know, apps like Foursquare, Gowalla and a number of others ask you to check in and publicly (or non-publicly) declare where you are. Then you might be eligible for points, prizes, mayorships and more. But the panel early on began discussing whether the check in itself was going away – replaced by devices that simply do the work for you, checking you in to various places and sites as you go about your business.
On the one hand, the convenience of a world without pausing to check in has its selling points. Imagine specials, discounts, messages, and tips just coming your way as you walk down Newbury Street or another shopping area. It’s a win-win – you get discounts, the stores get your traffic, and the app developers get your valuable data and habits with which they can further market to you.
But there is an aspect to this that still creeps me out. And that’s the lack of control – of my information, of my location, of my public persona. Sometimes, yu just want to stay hidden – and this auto-location makes you like the kid in hide-and-seek in grade school who was always the first one found because he or she couldn’t stay quiet and still. “I’m over here!” your phone shouts, and someone, somewhere now knows who you are and where you are.
That’s troubling, and not just for the security reasons that robmyhouse.com and sites like I Can Stalk U have so brutally and easily demonstrated. And it’s deeper than the tracking cookies that permeate the internet anyway. On the web, cookies let people know a lot about who you are, what you’re interested in and how you spend your time and money. But LBS technology can track your exact whereabouts in order to market to you, at a level that can be a little freaky.
So what, you say? I don’t want to get too carried away – but marketers don’t have a perfect track record of keeping personal information safe or treating it responsibly. Any time you share data with some organization, knowinglt or unknowingly, you are taking a risk. With LBS, generally, you’re also getting a reward. And ultimately, the question is whether the reward is worth the risk.
To me, having control over my check-in means I have some control over the level of risk I am taking. Don’t want to check in to announce I’m on vacation? I don’t have to. But if it means I get a $100 discount on my hotel, maybe I’ll call the neighbors and ask them to keep an eye on things. But the choice is mine. If my services check in for me, there is a possibility they’re informing the larger world of things I don’t want them to know. But an auto check in means I get more of what I want with less effort – and that’s tough to pass up.
So where does it all come together? With earthquakes in the news, I can’t help but see the tectonic plates of privacy and convenience coming together. Can they co-exist quietly? Sure. But they could also crash together with unhappy results. Facebook has been criticised for its privacy policies. But LBS raises the bar for the kinds of information being collected even higher. What if data is being sold in unscrupulous ways? What if hackers get in? Or what if a stalker wants to track a target?
I’m not saying privacy and convenience can’t coexist. But I am saying that providers and marketers who use LBS need to be sensitive to how deftly this balance must be handled. Failure to do so could cause some significant harm. And in the meantime, I’ll hold on to my need to check in myself. I might miss a few deals, but I hope I’m keeping a little more control of my information.