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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

Workforce going mobile March 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The entire workforce is mobile these days. If you don’t believe it then think for a moment about how a typical worker in any professional industry might start the day.

Get up, get breakfast, check the latest news on a smart-phone while eating toast, catch the bus to work listening to the news on the radio whilst browsing the web and checking emails. By the time the worker arrives at the office, all those early emails from Asia are dealt with and he has an update from the media on what is happening in the world that day.

If it still sounds far-fetched or untraditional then take a look around you on your morning commute. Sure, there are still some people with books and newspapers, but there are an increasingly large number of people who are connected the moment they pick up their phone.

This ability to use the web, collect email, and produce documents while on the move has never been so easy or pervasive – these devices are not issued by NASA, they are the iPhones and Android devices available on the High Street.

This always-on ability flies in the face of organisations that ban social networks inside the office. Which office worker faced with a social network ban never uses a social network? They just use their phone instead.

At present, the implications for the always-connected workforce are only starting to be understood, but they spread wider than just creating the opportunity to check email on a commute.

Some changes might be:

  • Employees are generally using higher-specification equipment now than the official kit issued by the company. Will this change the technology function of many companies so they just offer a basic infrastructure, a platform to connect to with bulletproof security? The IT department, as we know it, will be dead.
  • Commuting patterns may change entirely as employees are more seamlessly available 9 to 5 without being in a fixed location.
  • The fabric of many cities may change entirely as workers desert their core and accept a longer commute once or twice a week.

The humble smartphone and the freedom it offers to knowledge workers could change work and societies as fundamentally as the railways shaped Victorian society.

What’s in your (data) wallet? November 12, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Outsourcing, Software.
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So Google is fighting with Facebook over the right to access the address books of each other. The issue is that Facebook allows the user to find new friends by scouring through your Google address book and determining whether those email address are active on the social networking site.

But Facebook doesn’t allow Google the reciprocal rights to go scouring through the friends of a Facebook user and to scoop up their contact details for the Google address book. This anomaly has existed for some time with Google grumbling about it, but now their frustration has boiled over to the point that they have stopped allowing Facebook automatic access to Google address books. It’s still possible to do it all manually by exporting contacts to a file and then importing them, but it’s fiddly and has multiple steps, especially compared to the automatic check.

So who owns your address book anyway? Isn’t that list of contacts actually your own property? How can these giant corporations be fighting over my address list – as someone who uses services from both companies, like half a billion others. Well, if you still use a Filofax or Rolodex then you do own your contacts, but that doesn’t help very much when you want to send an email or make a call, unless you are sitting at your desk right next to that stack of thousands of Rolodex cards.

Both companies can clearly see a converged future. Mobile phones are synchronising automatically with online address books now, so the player who ends up with the dominant address book system will be in a powerful position, controlling email, social network, and mobile contact databases for hundreds of millions of people and watching how users use those contacts.

I’m interested in the point at which that information, self-created by me, ceased to be my own property. Do I have a say in how my address book is used or squabbled over any longer?