In the location business, we used to talk about tracking — namely, vehicle tracking. We stopped using the term as it sounded too close to Big Brotherism. Vehicle and employee tracking is much more prevalent today, but we have delicately renamed it “mobile resource management.”
Tracking is back in the news, and it is rightfully being called what it is, tracking. You may have seen the New York Times article about new ways people are being tracked via their mobile phones and other devices.
This isn’t in its infancy. One company alone says it has matched 1.5 billion devices this way. The incentive of the industry is to arm advertisers with behavior knowledge to enable hyper-personalized ads on the device that makes the most sense. The ad may be delivered on one device based on a person’s activity on another device. For instance, Greg is looking at a website for basketball shoes at his computer at work. He goes home and gets an ad for those shoes on his tablet, and it maybe a hyper-local ad for a store where he often shops. The ad may come at a time that he is primed to shop, on the device he will likely be using then. Mobile advertisers that are exploiting this data include Drawbridge, Flurry, Velti and SessionM. Companies that are advertising based on this mobile tracking data include Ford Motor, American Express, Fidelity, Expedia, Quiznos and Groupon.
As we know, phone data is not the sole interest of commercial companies. It is of interest to the government as well. This month, the National Security Agency (NSA) admitted that it was tracking the location of the U.S. population. Between 2010 and 2011, the NSA used cell towers to locate Americans. The NSA claims that it obtained the data, but didn’t use it.
What’s next? There is something left that mobile advertisers still haven’t figured out. They have no sure way to know the results of an ad placed on a mobile phone. Has the person viewed the ad and gone to the website on their computer, or walked into a store and placed an order? It probably won’t be a mystery for long.