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Most telecommunication companies now have the ability to assign the latitude and longitude of a mobile handset via technologies such as GPS and Wi-Fi. With these technologies a whole host of location based services and applications can now accurately find both people and objects.

However, the ability to track individuals in space and time with location-aware technologies has left some privacy advocates a bit queasy. Can the power of the GPS revolution be harnessed for good–or will it ultimately reduce our collective freedoms?

A Wired Magazine article recently chronicled the experiments of one of its writers with a location enabled mobile phone. Equipped with his 3G handset, the writer walked about San Francisco announcing where he planned to visit and allowed the mobile phone to publish his whereabouts as he toured the city. He also used location aware applications to find friends, colleagues and even converse with strangers in close proximity!

Location based technologies and accompanying services hold significant potential for personal and business endeavors. Such services, for example, could help a user find the location of a friend or retail establishment on a map. In business they might be used to track an asset or could be used to compute "pay as you drive" insurance rates.

Location based services are enabled by a plethora of geospatial data–some of which is transmitted by 3G handsets. Geospatial data is helping companies take the power of analytics–and marketing–to a whole new level.

For example, suppose you work for a retailer with traditional data in your data warehouse. With traditional data types you can query your data warehouse to discover information such as, "Show me all my stores in New York" or "Show me all stores in zip code 95136, which had two million in sales". The usefulness of data is limited in this format.

However, adding geospatial data into a database that supports this type of data, some very sophisticated applications can help a user compute and visualize the distance between objects, or perform area and perimeter calculations. Some applications even incorporate commonly used map based services such as Google Maps or Google Earth.

When geospatial data is added to a database, queries from analytical applications can bring back much richer information. For example, physical store placements can now be populated on a map, and the distance between stores calculated. Marketers can run promotions within a specified number of miles from their store location instead of using postal codes. And supposing a company had the data and proper analytical infrastructure, customers could be selected for a promotion based on their segment and/or profile and their current proximity to an establishment (yes–Minority Report here we come!). In short, geospatial data can assist with more granular marketing efforts.

Now, let's get back to the topic of proliferation of location-aware mobile phones. Benefits to businesses and individuals notwithstanding, the ability to pinpoint a person's physical presence concerns many privacy advocates. They argue for example, "Do you really want your boss to know that you're playing hooky instead of working virtual on Fridays?" or "Should one be advertising that they are out of town, notifying the world that their spouse and children home alone?"

Of course, it is currently possible to purchase a mobile phone without GPS. And location based applications must be enabled on the handset. In addition, many applications allow the user to control the information published.

However, the trend is unmistakable; cellular manufacturers are shipping more phones with location aware capability. And in the next 5-7 years it will become very difficult to purchase a phone without these features.

This brings us full circle to a long list of questions that both society and individuals must contemplate. Enthusiasts of location-aware mobile phones counter that privacy concerns are overblown, especially since mobile operators can currently locate your signal via cellular towers. Privacy advocates play the other side of the coin asking, "Have we really thought through all the ramifications of broadcasting our location information?"

There are certainly myriad benefits to location awareness for individuals, companies and society. Nonetheless, with an ability to pinpoint the location of an individual to within 10 meters, are we unexpectedly opening Pandora's fabled box?

* What marketing benefits can you see from consumer adoption of 3G phones equipped with GPS/Wi-Fi? Will the adoption of these technologies benefit your business?
* Many DailyFIX readers own a 3G phone. Are you using location applications and are you actively publishing your whereabouts? Advantages/disadvantages?
* Is the coming GPS revolution ultimately more benefit than bane? Or the converse?

Continue reading "The GPS Revolution: Benefit or Bane?" ... Read the full article

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.