Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mashup on Location

location based services

Posted by Ian Davis at June 20, 2007 12:05 AM
I spent the evening at the Mashup* event in London. Tonight's theme was location and specifically location-based services. We were treated to a long sales pitch from TeleAtlas as the opener which was followed by a rather lacklustre panel session. This was a shame because the others have been pretty good (such as the one on identity)
The evening was saved, in my opinion, by Tom Heinersdorff who posed a question about passive data matching in the middle of the panel session and enquired whether any of the panel were working on such a system. The example he gave was of someone walking past a supermarket which happened to be broadcasting information about a special offer on chocolate which the person's phone could detect and alert them if it knew they liked chocolate. Unfortunately this useful question got buried by the moderator who used it as an opportunity to talk about how he'd heard that Tesco gather so much information on its customers that it can tell that a woman is pregnant before she knows herself. The audience laughed and moved straight onto the next question, leaving Tom's point behind.
Which was a pity, because when I spoke to him after it turns out that there is a very compelling privacy story in this passive matching idea. Most location based systems fall down here because they require the user's device to transmit its location which, in the age of data protection acts, can't be used without the user's consent which often requires them signing a form. Putting any sort of barrier in front of this data simply reduces its uptake and hence usefulness. The whole issue isn't helped by the mobile operators' insistence on charging extortionate sums for access to the APIs around this data.
The beauty of Tom's suggestion is that there is no transmission of personal information between the vendor and the consumer. Thus it works without all that hassle of getting consumer consent because no private data actually leaves the user's mobile device and the user is fully in control of the experience. I can imagine this working in other domains too, such as online advertising. In that case the ad server would suggest some pertinent advertisments based on the page content and the user's browser would select which ones might be of interest to them. The browser would be configurable with user preferences or perhaps adaptive over time.
It's not a win-win scenario though since the advertisers and marketers don't get their hands on that lovely profile data that they so cherish. However, it's a big win for consumer privacy.
Apparently the next Mashup event is on TV 2.0 so maybe we'll see some Joost or miniweb presence.
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