Location Based Mobile Advertising – Google’s Following You

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Are you in love with your location-based mobile services and app? Well, look for the fine print because Google and Apple are tracking how you use those services.  Both Google and Apple are now under scrutiny and some investigation with regards to how they are tracking people’s mobility and why it is important.  According to a recent New York Times Article, there are two main reasons: research to improve location-based services and location based mobile advertising.

Just so we are on the same page, a location based app or service is one that requires GPS capability or can recognize your location. Services like Google Maps, Yelp, FourSquare, anything that gives you directions or locates items on a map is a location based service.  Basically, you are letting a service know where you are. The worrisome part is that when you are not using the service, it still knows where you are. Location based mobile advertising capitalizes on that, and pushes advertisements on you depending on where you are.

Google and Apple both say they are collecting information anonymously from their users to better their networks, denying any claims that they are tracking their customers individually.  Google says that they allow users to opt-out if they do not want to share their information, but if you opt-out you cannot use any apps that require GPS.

It just so happens I have an Android cell phone, as soon as I read this I went to the Location setting. Yes, I have the option to allow networks to detect my position. I had it set to “9-1-1” for an emergency situation, and then I changed it to “Location On.”  It warns me that I am “enabling third party access to Location Information through software.”

So yes, Google kind of warns you that it may use your information. That’s better than nothing. But, if I don’t agree to these terms I cannot use many of my favorite apps. There is no feature to turn on my GPS, and decline sharing my information.

According to the New York Times, Apple is using their iPads and iPhones to track every location and movement of each customer. Apple refused to comment on the flood of rumors regarding emails to Mr. Jobs and alleged lawsuits. Apple responded in a letter saying they, “Collect location data anonymously and only when consumers agree to use its location-based services like maps, or any apps that ask for a user’s location, and for its advertising system, iAds.”

iAds, and the industry of location based mobile advertising is the second reason for tracking users.  Having location based mobile advertising helps businesses, especially small businesses, target potential customers in their areas and is expected to be a $2.5 billion market by 2015. However, the companies are being questioned about their transparency.  They are admitting to using our information for research to better the products we obsess over.

As part of Youth Radio’s Mobile Action Lab, a few of the apps we’re developing rely heavily on location based services and maps to build community. I know Facebook collects my information to push ads on me, and many other services admit to it as well. Are location based apps and services any worse? Are we being unfairly monitored? We rely on these social networks and services for things in every day life. With the influx and popularity of location based services, monitoring seems inevitable.

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