Forget SXSW, Real People Don’t Want You to Know Where They Are

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,, 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?

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8 Responses to “Forget SXSW, Real People Don’t Want You to Know Where They Are”

  1. Don S says at

    Using, I let my significant other know when I’ve let the office and I’m on my way home.  No real business model there, though…

  2. Greg says at

    Glympse is another one that is very useful for the same purpose

  3. GeoLoqi Et Al says at

    […] I’d get my Latin on with that title. As usual, Greg is spot-on with his take on all the SXSW Local/Social/Mobile apps. The unending fascination this generation’s entrepreneurs have with finding out where their […]

  4. Jim Delli Santi says at

    As our head of business operations stated, “Anyone who needs to know where I am already does”. “My relatives or parents would never broadcast their location, they wouldn’t even know what I was talking about”. That’s not the response I’d want if I was expecting my product to have mass-market appeal.

  5. James Arthur says at

    Greg – great points. I’ve always been a advocate of the opt in/aggregate anonymous model put forth by some apps and several wireless carriers… consumers get location contextual ads/promotions on an anonymous basis or get more tailored promotions in exchange for exposing info… seems like a fair deal. Retailers don’t need 1:1 marketing for their broader messages, and can spin a personalized message/promotion for a frequent/affinity shopper that has opted in.

  6. Greg says at

    @James. I agree generally with what you’re saying. Give people the ability to opt-in and some control over the sharing of their data. They’ll be much more receptive to messages accordingly. Look at the Placecast data about their retailer partners. 

  7. Vidar Andersen says at

    Hi Greg, I’m the co-founder of Gauss – The People Magnet. Thank you for the mention. I thought I’d take a minute to clarify that Gauss doesn’t share your location. Gauss is not an app to “check in” or share your location. Gauss uses only already public information that the multitude of users on e.g. Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare have chosen and opted in to make public. In fact, Gauss provides an extra layer of privacy by not revealing the location of the users of the app at any point – not even revealing where you are even if you already made it public – if you are a Gauss user. I’d be very happy to explain further in mail ( or on Skype (blacktar)!

  8. jon says at

    Interesting stuff someone from the last generation of great bands, I for one don’t want anyone to know that I’m standing on the corner of 42nd/7th or could care less if you think the ice cream place you stumbled upon is the best thing since sliced bread…way too many dissimilar folks out there to cause my lack of caring about others opinions..I mean, just look at the election results.

    Also can’t believe how many sites are competing for what basically is the same slice of pie..and these are just the sites that this writer mentioned..mama mia.

    And lastly, what boggles my mind more than anything in the new app world..Why do 80% of these new startups ignore the Android..makes no sense to me at all. You’ve all got do you not release an Android version.

    That being said, and primarily on that merit alone, I’ve decided to give banjo a whirl as they seem to be the only one who values the Android user…how strange!

  9. Drinking Games, Social Networks, and the Law of Increasing Returns | The 2nd Floor says at

    […] similar interests with them. Which of these apps will be successful in the long-run is highly debated and rests almost entirely on how many people take up the app. After all, an app for meeting new […]

  10. Vidar Andersen says at

    @jon, I can only speak for our bootstrapped startup Gauss – The People Magnet, and the single reason that we have not developed an Android version is that we have not taken any funding yet. We do love Android too and we will make an Android version later when we have taken funding.

  11. Turns Out, Most People Really Don’t Want To Share Their Location - Drake Cooper says at

    […] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}Greg Sterling has a good post about “lifecasting.” Or, really, about how lifecasting was such a huge industry push several […]

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