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Verizon Breaks Taboo with Lucrative Location Play

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 4:49pm
Andrew Berg

Verizon's new opt-in location-tracking 'Select' program is almost refreshing in that it adds some transparency to the value of the massive data created by our mobile devices.

For a long time, location has been held as the untouchable in sensitive personal data. From Apple to Google to Facebook, big tech companies do not want to be caught snooping on location data without permission. Apple's been through a Senate inquiry on the topic and is now having to defend its practices in China. Google and Facebook have also faced scrutiny over how they use and store location data.

Now Verizon is putting to the test real-world consumer attitudes on sharing their location data by offering them reward points in exchange for access to their location information.

With this program, Verizon is admitting to the huge value inherent in knowing where its customers are at any given time. It's also giving its customers a nominal cut of the action it will be getting from advertisers for this data. To be sure, this is information to which few are privy and it is for that reason alone that advertisers are drooling over the chance to access it.

Location data adds more context for advertisers, allowing them to more accurately serve end users with ads that will be useful to them. At least, that's the way companies like IBM, Cisco and others will pitch the move to leverage location.

Carriers have long been trying to figure out how best to make use of the massive amounts of data out various cellular-connected devices create. Until now, they haven't really done a good job of what many analysts refer to as digital gold.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, Verizon has a chance to start analyzing and selling this data. This is the realization of receiving a text for a free cup of coffee as you walk past a Starbucks. This is the realization of getting an email for an oil change at Midas because you are part of a large group of customers that drive past a particular Midas location on your commute to and from work.

This isn't really new but that doesn't necessarily make it any less creepy. Various apps have been asking to collect end user location information for a long time. What's new here is that this is a wireless carrier, keeper of the actual network over which all your communications pass, that is now asking for permission to follow an end user's every move and sell those coordinates to big brand names looking to sell more stuff.

I don't actually think this is the next big thing or the death of privacy as we know it. But as long as Verizon and others keep things transparent and ask for permission, who knows, it might be worth it? Given the amount of money carriers are about to make off their customer's data, a cup of coffee and a few reward points are the absolute minimum they deserve.

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