The collection and use of real-time mobile location data has become an essential part of the larger debate on data privacy. A recent series of negative stories gave the impression that the use of location data by marketers is tantamount to spying on consumers.
We are also beginning to see lawsuits, such as the one recently brought by the City of Los Angeles Public Prosecutor against the Weather Company, for allegedly misleading consumers about how their location data would be used. Other lawsuits will probably follow.
Operators ended the sharing of data. Negative coverage and exposure of some high-profile abuses have prompted major US mobile operators to prohibit the sharing of location data with third-party "location aggregators". The last to do so is AT & T following a narrative of Motherboard stating that carrier data passed into the hands of unauthorized third parties – ] of bounty hunters, in this case – and were used for legally dubious purposes.
Be that as it may, it is unlikely that these changes will have a significant impact on the use of location data by advertisers on major platforms or in the programmatic ecosystem. AT & T owns AppNexus; Verizon owns Verizon Media Group ( rebranded Oath ). Advertisers on these platforms will probably still have location data. They are not "third parties". (We asked Verizon for clarification on this point and will update the story if they answer.)
Request more regulation or legislation. Location data are so valuable and widely available that abuse is inevitable. Some of these more and more frequent reports give new impetus to calls for federal data protection legislation. The decision by carriers to remove location aggregators is at least partly an effort to anticipate investigations and potentially prevent regulation.
Certain location data companies, however, accept the proposal for clear legislative or regulatory guidance.
For example, Duncan McCall, CEO of PlaceIQ, recently told me by e-mail: "I think the California Consumer Privacy Act and, hopefully, a similar federal law (because a mosaic different laws would not be beneficial to anyone). It only grants protection and trust to consumers, but will finally give the ecosystem of digital data and location data a set of rules and well thought out guidelines. This will bring stability and predictability to the industry and help eliminate some of the "Wild West" players who have no interest in investing for the long-term benefit of the ecosystem.
also state that they adhere to ethical data collection practices and are scrupulous to be "good actors" in the ecosystem. Some talk about responsible use and / or socially socially beneficial location technology. And some organizations (for example, NAI ) seek to apply transparent and ethical data collection standards. Foursquare m indicated in an email that their apps and partners were seeking prior consent to the use of location data.
Why you should care. Location data is available from a wide range of sources in the market, including application developers and program-based auctioning. The loss of the carrier's location is not a blow to the ecosystem.
However, it reflects a tendency to reduce access to location information more generally. Although it remains to be seen whether federal privacy legislation will be passed in 2019 (several bills have been proposed), the Consumer Protection Act of California will come into force on January 1, 2020. Other states may enact similar or stricter laws, which would give additional impetus to comprehensive federal legislation.
About the Author
Greg Sterling is a collaborative editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk on the links between digital media and consumer behavior in the real world. He is also Vice President of Strategy and Knowledge for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at the address Google+ .