Remember the term “lifecasting”? It was in relatively widespread use a few years ago (2007-2009). The term itself seemed to be a metaphor for a cultural shift in attitudes toward privacy. Facebook told us the same thing: traditional privacy was giving way to more open attitudes about sharing personal information, especially among younger people.
What last two years have shown us, if anything, is that these assumptions and statements are largely if not completely wrong. Privacy is far from dead. In fact people are concerned and upset by what they see as unauthorized sharing and exploitation of their personal information. They also don’t want to be targeted and tracked across the Internet — even if it means more “relevant” ads or content.
Consider two sets of 2012 survey data from the Pew Internet Project. The first one, about privacy and social network settings, was released a couple of weeks ago. As the slide below indicates, the majority of social network users have their settings either “partially private” or “friends only.” And this is true across age categories according to the data.
Today Pew released data about attitudes toward search personalization and ad targeting. Substantial majorities said they were opposed to search personalization and ad targeting across the Internet — even if personalization or targeting meant the content and ads would be more relevant to them.
These findings are pretty unambiguous. Yet consumers still would rather see “relevant” advertising. The issue is how that relevance is accomplished. As I’ve argued before consumers are concerned largely because they don’t know how their data are being used and who gets access to these data. This is an industry failure of education.
Cut to SXSW: a wide range of friend finder and quasi-dating apps are being released or promoted in conjunction with the event in Austin. The New York Times has an extensive discussion of these apps as a category:
Many companies say it is beneficial and that their apps will help people forge new connections and meet someone they perhaps should know. App stores have been flooded with such tools in recent weeks. Kismet, Glancee, Highlight, Ban.jo, Meeteor, Pearescope, GetGauss, Intro, Qrious, Mingle and Sonar, hope to transform the smartphone into a social dowsing rod that delivers an alert when it detects other people nearby who share interests, friends or career goals.
The very premise behind most of these apps — that I want to notify people of where I am and I’m equally interested in others’ locations — is flawed. As friend finder apps, Loopt and Brightkite both failed (though Loopt was acquired). As the data above show, people are still very much concerned about privacy and don’t want to share personal information, including location, with strangers or random individuals.
One of Foursquare’s original functions was friend finder and location broadcasting tool. It has moved dramatically away from that as the focus of the app’s value. Google Latitude, a location sharing app without greater value, similarly could be considered a failure, although Google will say there are millions of registered users. Google is now trying to evolve Latitude into a loyalty app.
Real people (as opposed to tech insiders and investors) fundamentally do not want to broadcast their locations to the world.
SXSW is a unique environment where people are gathered in a temporary community around music, film and technology. College campuses and sporting events are similar in that there’s a shared identity and sense of community. In these contexts friend finder apps make more sense and can work. However outside of these and a few other contexts most people aren’t interested in telling strangers and acquaintances where they are and where they’re going.
Putting aside the stock answers (coupons, LBS ads) there’s really no business model associated with most of the apps above either. Accordingly the apps above are likely to fail unless there are layers of additional value built in or added later. Location and “friend finding” are not enough by themselves.
Do you agree or disagree that people don’t really want you to know where they are?