Locating Privacy

By Tom Arran, IMS Research



Tom Arran
Tom Arran
The launch of Google Latitude early this year helped to bridge the gap between laptop and smart phone location-based services, utilising the same platform across multiple devices. This innovation poses both a promise and a threat to LBS market. The promise is clearly the innovation the application brings to the market and the very large user base has the potential to hit critical mass. The clear threat for the entire LBS market is the fear surrounding privacy and consumer protection concerns.

The tentative subject of user location privacy has been looked in detail by companies involved and yet no clear solution has been detailed on how they should proceed. A growing number of companies are producing location aware applications that can collect information on the whereabouts of the user’s location alongside other related material. This information is particularly valuable to third parties looking to target products or services at a specific geographic location.

Locating Privacy
Location history is another asset that is often over looked by consumers – the value of where a user was at a particular time is often more valuable than a user’s current location because users’ movement patterns can be generated. Often this information helps subsidize the upfront cost of the application to the user, thus allowing the application to be available for free or at a lower cost. Too many users there is a perceived higher value attached to their location privacy when compared to other information collected about them, such as shopping habits and internet usage. This perceived value is likely to decrease as more people use the service, allaying the fears of the users in favour for a “herd” mentality.

To keep the LBS application market advancing smoothly, the market is currently evolving towards four main gate keepers for location privacy.

1. The opt-in. Many of these applications have to be downloaded onto the device before they can be used. Google stresses that the software is strictly opt-in – you must download the software then allow the software to use your location. This removes the ability for laptop and handsets to share their position out of the box. Users should have a right to their own privacy and should have ability to choose what should be shared and what should not, which is what this option provides.

Locating Privacy
2. Adjustable accuracy. The ability to adjust the accuracy that is suggested to the application either based on what technology is used (GPS, Wi-Fi Location or Cellular Location) or fine tune to a measurable radius of accuracy (10m radius, 1km radius, 10km radius). Additional users may be able to input their own location manually allowing them to lie to the other users. In some applications tuning the accuracy often does not change what is provided to the LBS service – they make the changes to the accuracy on the server side and then display in the application, which allows them better accuracy for the information they collect.

3. Out of Reach Control. If the phone is stolen or lost, friend and contact location can be put at risk. Barriers are required so that this can be controlled when the handset is beyond the reach of the original user. Very few applications have this “kill switch” but as this type of service grows it will become a requirement for social applications.

4. Security of information. This point ties the previous three together. The underlying fear for consumers is how secure their information is from unknown parties. Users need and require security and protection from other users and other parties, which increases as more users adopt to use the service. Having the security offers additionally protects against bad press relating to the application and the market, which could damage uptake.

Continued...

Tuesday, April 21st 2009
Tom Arran


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