Solving the Problem of Mobile Location: More Consumer Education than Technology

Yesterday at SXSW Geoloqi CEO Amber Case gave the keynote address about the potential for location on mobile devices. I wasn’t present (still on a plane). According to reports, she reiterated a lot of things about location and its potential that are pretty well known among LBS geeks.

Her company, which just announced a distribution deal with Factual, has a consumer facing app, but it’s really a platform for third party developers and publishers to leverage location for notifications, ads and so on.

I’m not a developer or engineer so I can’t assess how hard it is right now to deliver location on smartphones. There are lots of companies trying to solve the problem in one way or another: Skyhook, Placecast, PlaceIQ, Google, Facebook, as well as many consumer facing LBS apps.

My understanding is that if you turn on location services on the iPhone (and you accept the permission request) any app can locate you precisely. For individual apps (e.g., Yelp, YP Mobile, Foursquare) location isn’t a big challenge. It’s a bigger problem when it comes to advertising on the mobile web or in apps.

I’m told that only about 5% to 10% of mobile ads carry a lat-long. Most rely on IP targeting on the mobile Web. In locally oriented apps, geotargeted ads can be delivered somewhat more easily (see, e.g., xAd and AT&T’s YP-local ad network). However I’ve heard lots of people complain about this challenge on the iPhone. Less so about Android.

In search, location targeting is also available and fairly precise. In addition, Google just took steps to link Chrome across platforms for better ad targeting in general.

The big challenge related to location on mobile devices is ultimately about the value chain of permissions and disclosures to consumers and gaining their opt-in. Various consumer surveys have reflected consumer discomfort with location tracking, especially passive or persistent location tracking.

For example, a March 2011 survey by TRUSTe and Harris found high levels of discomfort among respondents about sharing their location with developers:

–Nearly three-quarters of consumers are uncomfortable with the idea of advertiser tracking, and 85% want to be able to opt into or out of targeted mobile ads
–A significant majority (77%) of consumers doesn’t want to share their location data with app owners/developers

Source: TRUSTe-Harris (3/11, n=1,000 US adults who owned smartphones)

Indeed the “problem of location” is more about socializing the benefits of location sharing than technology development.

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7 Responses to “Solving the Problem of Mobile Location: More Consumer Education than Technology”

  1. Michael Bauer says at

    After drilling down into GeoLoqi a bit, it looks like they are providing some value-added services.  You’ve got it right, Greg, that most smartphones provide location services.  To be more precise, they provide what I’d call “point-based” location services – where exactly are you at a point on the planet right now.  What GeoLoqi is providing is more of what I’d call “area-based” location services – where exactly are you relative to a specific area over a period of time.  This is where their “Geo Fencing” services comes into play.  As a derivative to that, they offer analytics services as well.  From a technical perspective, these are non-trivial services and not provided out-of-the-box on smartphones (certainly not across multiple carriers and devices).  So, all-in-all, I think they are providing an interesting baseline service.  Of course, all of us have Factual deals though.

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    How do you think it compares with what Placecast offers?

  3. Michael Bauer says at

    Feels like Placecast is going vertical with the focus on retail whereas GeoLoqi seems more horizontal, trying to provide a broader, more generic platform.  

  4. Street Fight Daily: Tending to Patch, Fondu Redesign, Hyperlocal Panel at SXSW | Street Fight says at

    […] on the mobile web.Solving the Problem of Mobile Location: More Consumer Education than Technology (Screenwerk) Greg Sterling: The big challenge related to location on mobile devices is ultimately about the […]

  5. Jim Delli Santi says at

    Industry insiders have told me that all of the technologies now exist or are “maturing” enough to get valuable deals to consumers via their mobile phones. Whether it be geo-fencing, geo-point-casting, spatial-casting (“area”), and so on. With that said, 4 years ago when I spoke with Dr. Sun and his Samsung team (who architected the $4B Samsung deal for the Sprint’s 4g network) the technical problem was not tracking the phone location through an area, but getting an adequate sub-millisecond response time to the phone from the servers across the network before the servers time-out. They called this capability “data-paging” and at that time, insisted 4g was the only standard that would support the fast-enough response times necessary for a real-time or almost real-time area-based and location-aware data service. So I also think this industry-critical SLA issue is being solved to handle a mass audience, 100’s of millions of phones using location to get geo-relevant data billions of times a day.

    What resonated with me is Greg’s point that “The big challenge …. is then gaining (consumers’) opt-in.” Typically in privacy law, “notice” and “consent” is required to secure the user’s location and then get permission to use it for targeting either services or advertising to them. How can the industry solve for getting users’ permission to receive ads and at what level of intrusiveness? It’s why I sometimes get 10 messages a day on my iPhone apps, each one asking for my permission to user my phone’s location. It’s very annoying even though it’s in my best interests.

  6. Greg says at

    The continuous requests for permission are somewhat annoying, I agree. There may be a way to strike a better balance and still gain consumer consent.

  7. Michael Bauer says at

    Really appreciate the detail, Jim.  Wasn’t aware of this “data-paging” issue but that makes a lot of sense.  Now that we are moving toward 4G networks and that is addressing this issue, that’s good to know.  Still imagine that GeoLoqi has a potential model, though, since although the technologies may be maturing it would seem that none of the carriers have an incentive to offer something that works across other carriers.  To your and Greg’s main point concerning consumer consent would hope that we might see something where I could manage consent across all applications.  Something like GeoLoqi’s service that consumer-facing and not just developer-facing.

  8. Jim Delli Santi says at

    Yes agreed Michael. GeoLoqu’s areas-based approach makes complete sense as that is precisely how brands think about traditional media. e.g. the Nielsen DMA for radio. Advertisers think “geo-spatially” in that they say, how many billboards or bus stops do I need to have to reach X% of the population “Y” number of times. It would be very cool if an advertiser would be able to see a type of “liquid” audience across an area. e.g. for san jose, at this time, 1,652 people are in/around Santana Row and Westfield Mall, and then be able to reach those people with a brief promotion, (like a blue-light special). As a user you could “subscribe” to that area’s ads (or follow) them. This would be great while on vacation to a place.

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