August 30, 2010-

At the beginning of this year Mark Zuckerberg famously announced that privacy was dead, stirring the pot and increasing concerns among the majority of internet users that their identities and personal information were being appropriated for capital gain.

Arguably, 2010 has been the year of “location aware technology,” whether the location is two dimensional or three dimensional. These days your computer knows where you’ve been online, where you’re going, and why you buy things there, and your phone can tell any satellite where you physically are on the globe and what advertising you’re passing at that very moment. Clearly, marketers are doing their best to collect as much of that information as possible and to use it.

One of the main issues in the ongoing debate about whether location aware technology and geotagging are net-positive or net-negative developments (or somewhere in between) centers on the concession that advertising and marketing are not going away any time soon. Advertising is an institutionalized facet of American life, especially in major urban centers. That being said, marketers like to argue that with more information they can better speak to a consumer’s interests and needs, as opposed to leading a consumer to buy something he or she doesn’t need.

Leaving that argument for a minute, the real concern here is over privacy, and educating the masses on how to protect their own privacy. A recent article in the New York Times cautioned readers against geotagging photos at their homes, and cited the example of Adam Savage, one half of the “MythBusters” team who had geotagged a Twitter photo of his car in front of his personal residence in the Bay Area. The Times pointed out that by doing Adam Savage had just informed all of his Twitter followers of his personal address, the make and model of his car, and that he was leaving for work at that very moment, “geotags… are embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones and digital cameras. Because the location data is not visible to the casual viewer, the concern is that many people may not realize it is there; and they could be compromising their privacy, if not their safety, when they post geotagged media online.”

Now with Facebook Places, a new feature which allows its users to tag their locations in their status updates, and the increasing use of Twitter and FourSquare, organizations such as the ACLU are concerned that the spread of technology is one again outpacing usage education and awareness of the risks of information abuse, “The organization highlighted the element of the new service that allows users to “tag” an accompanying friend and post his or her location to Facebook – even if the friend does not have an iPhone, which is currently the only platform on which the application is available.”

The other side of this coin involves how browsers and advertisers track our movements online. After all, this is a huge market that Facebook plans to tap, 50 percent of Facebook’s over 400 million users log in to the site at least once a day, and more than a quarter of that overall number access the service from mobile devices. However, despite all of the hype, new research shows that most users still decline to announce their location publicly.

According to a recent Forrester Research report, “Just 4 percent of Americans have tried location-based services, and 1 percent use them weekly…Eighty percent of those who have tried them are men, and 70 percent are between 19 and 35.”

Returning to the modern marketer’s argument that the more information they can gather on a person’s interests, habits and locations, the more applicable an ad will be for a consumer, there is strong evidence to support this. Personalized ad retargeting, where ads for specific products that consumers have perused online follow them around while they continue to browse the web, are becoming more pervasive. And marketers are big believers, “‘The overwhelming response has been positive,’ said Aaron Magness, senior director for brand marketing and business development at Zappos, a unit of”

Still, consumer sentiment about being monitored, whether online or off, reflects overall concern and creepy feelings. Ongoing education about how browsers and advertisers collect behavioral information both online and off might serve to eliminate the two-way mirror feeling that many consumers experience. However, it has not yet proven to completely allay consumer fears and concerns about a potentially serious breach of privacy.

In other words, while consumers feel uncertain as to where all of this leaves their privacy, advertisers are increasingly certain of where consumers stand. Literally.


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