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Does regular data protection apply to location-aware ads? January 25, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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In 2010 I wrote on this blog about some of the difficulties associated with facial recognition and privacy. Although biometric scanning is becoming more important, it’s still not really the method of choice for advertisers who want to recognise a consumer in a particular location.

That solution is far more mundane, the good old Smartphone.

In the past couple of years, location based services such as foursquare and Facebook Places have made it easy for users to check-in and let their friends know where they are located, based on location-aware mobile devices.

What’s interesting though is that there seem to be few issues of privacy for advertisers to worry about, if some basic rules are followed.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. You are a ‘fan’ of Starbucks cafes on Facebook. You go to one of their branches and check-in on Facebook Places. You notice that the café chain has pasted a voucher on your Facebook wall that can only be used within the next one hour at a specific location…

To some this might seem an abuse of information. The café chain knows where you are and the exact time so they can make a time-bound offer to a specific branch, but think for a moment… the consumer has already clicked ‘like’ on the Starbucks fan page to indicate that they like the brand, and they volunteered their own location information to Facebook Places.

If the consumer has volunteered all this information, then surely they are going to be delighted when the chain rewards them – rather than having any concern about being stalked by a coffee company – Starbucks or anyone else.

Though social media is involved, all the standard principles of data protection still apply even in this case. Soon advertising may be not just directed to an audience of one, but to one person in a specific place at a specific time too.

Starbucks' Christmas Bokeh
Photo by Piero Fissore licensed under Creative Commons

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