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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

Why can’t phone users cancel a contract if they find they have no coverage at home? August 17, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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Telecoms watchdog Ofcom recently published maps showing the expected 3G phone coverage across the UK for all the major service providers.  What’s scary for most consumers is the large amounts of dead space – usually in rural areas.
I know how difficult it can be to sometimes get a phone signal in the UK as I recently cycled from London to Lands End in Cornwall and I was often searching for a particular road, hoping to use the GPS function on my phone, only to find there was no signal.

But what happens if you buy a brand new phone and take it home, only to find that you can’t even get a reliable signal at home. Surely it means the product is not fit for purpose – just like buying a product that does not work, you should be able to return it to the shop? It seems that is very difficult. Most retailers don’t like to see you cancelling a juicy 18-month contract because of perceived poor signals at home.

There are now examples of consumers taking complaints to the courts, but this is not common. Most consumers just hope things will be improve, but there are even some phone operator adverts now featuring people hanging from the window trying to get a signal, implying that this is usual on other networks.

It should be simple to offer a cooling-off period after getting a phone, where you can test the signal, or even offering to allow potential customers to try the service using a temporary SIM. But the status quo is surely not acceptable. Why would anyone pay for a service that doesn’t work?