Everyday location privacy is getting harder and hard to control for consumers, and trends in consumer behavior analysis are making it even harder. I talked about this back in July when I wrote about store Wi-Fi tracking. Today I am going to look at some efforts to make it better for you, that will probably not work. Then I will fall into my usual rant at the developers of these technologies.
Getting up to speed
In early 2012, Navizon started rolling out its ability to track you as you move about a store, using your smartphone’s WiFi. The interesting part about this technology was that you had no choice. In implementations consumers were not put on notice that they were being tracked. By the way, as long as your phone was not in airplane mode, you were being tracked.
The technology used a feature of WiFi to its advantage. As long as the WiFi radio is on, it will respond to pings. Through triangulation you could be pinpointed in the store and watched as you went from the TV section to the groceries, to the watches. Did I say you can’t turn this off?
Not going anywhere anytime soon
The promise of this technology for retailers is too great for them to ignore it. The potential revenues are too large. A little over a week ago, another player in this space, Nomi, closed a $10 million funding round. That was after a $3 million infusion from earlier this year.
Yet another player, Euclid is doing it a bit different. While they are also seeing some traction with investors (to the tune of $23 million) they are restricting their client’s use of the information to what this technology is pointed at today – unique visitors to the store, customer frequency and duration of visit. What they are not allowing their clients to do is connect the identifier of the phone with a person’s real identity.
I’m a bit skeptical of the future. The data is just too valuable for downstream uses. And I don’t want to rely on the good graces of the stores and their analytics providers. That is no control, whatsoever.
Opt-Out? I don’t think so
There is only one way to opt-out of this is to turn your phone off before you go into a store. There is no other way. It works behind the scenes, under your nose. Stores argue that they are just trying to optimize your shopping experience. What about downstream uses or other ways to monetize the data. Since they don’t tell you that it is being done, and they argue they don’t have to, they have no restrictions against selling it. Oh My!
Do not track? Not so easy
Some have argued that a new generation of Do Not Track (DNT) should solve this for us. As this article correctly surmises, DNT doesn’t work on the web, and on mobile it’s even worse. What about mirroring the Do Not Call list? Log in to a website and enter your MAC address (the unique network identifier of the WiFi on your mobile) and viola. You are safe.
Not so fast. First, no one has implemented it. Second, there is allegedly a patent on it (allegedly because you can’t always be so sure what the claims of an issued patent really cover until you go to court). Implementations may have to deal with licensing fees back to Radius Networks (the assignee of the patent). Third, your mobile’s MAC is alot less stable than your phone number.
Remember the days of Do Not Call? Back in the days pre-mobiles, you had one number. For folks of my generation your number stayed with your house. If you lived in the same house for 20 years, you had the same number for 20 years. How often do you change your mobile now? The number stays the same but all the internal guts are different, so that address you registered is no longer valid.
iBeacon keeping us off the shoals?
Apple, with iOS 7, released a new technology called iBeacon that I believe could put users back in control. When I wrote about this in September I proposed that properly implemented that technology could put you back in control. That is all consumers want, or should want. A bit of control. Give us the ability to effectively opt-out.
We have yet to see implementations of iBeacon, so it is still a game of let’s see. That being said, I think iBeacon shows us a future of location tracking that is meaningful to consumers. A system that properly notifies me of what is going on and sells me on the promise is one that I will probably use gladly. If I get wind that a store is tracking me behind my back, it is one that I will avoid, unless I can’t.
Bright shiny technology – it’s just a squirrel
Technologists and developers are very adept at being distracted by bright shiny things. Getting to play with new things is too enticing to ignore. It can get you to overlook things. You can be all about protecting users, but if you are so enamored by technology’s promise you may forget, for a moment, the user.
The way to overcome this is to embed consumer advocates in your technology teams. Or assign someone on the team to be nothing more than a consumer advocate. This is part of privacy by design. If you do not embed privacy concepts in everything you do, you will inevitably do something that will anger your users.
Do the right thing by your users
So if you are looking at these new technologies, think about the user and how they will perceive it. Then move accordingly. Do right by your users, and they will come lining up to give you everything you want. It will actually be easy.