Location privacy issues have the power to put the skids on our industry. When I stepped into the Where 2.0 show, little did I know I was about to see Apple publicly open its kimono, reveal its location collection practices, and further fuel public and government outrage on location privacy. Apple doesn’t stand alone as Google also stores similar data on Android devices. And in a smaller breach, TomTom’s user location data was sold to the Netherland’s government, helping to optimize the placement of speed traps. Congress responded by hauling Apple and Google into a Congressional subcommittee meeting. Senator Patrick Leahy captured the hearing’s mood when he said, “American consumers and businesses face threats to privacy like no time before.” He went on to say that he was “deeply concerned” about the reports that iPhones and Android devices were “collecting, storing, and tracking user location data without the user’s consent.”
Apple’s recent revelation was that its iOS operating system stores user location data in a hidden file. The location was being provided to iTunes during back-ups, giving Apple a log of a user’s movements and activities, for up to a year. A new iOS version reduces the log to a week of data and ends the back up to iTunes. The cache can be eliminated by disabling the device’s location feature.
Leak from Google Skyhook skirmish. Larry Page, now-CEO of Google, sent an e-mail last year to top executives with the news that Motorola had chosen to use Skyhook, and not Google, location services. According to e-mails leaked to the San Jose Mercury News, Google executives responded by emphasizing the importance of collecting location data from smartphones, and the value of the data.
“I cannot stress enough how important Google’s Wi-Fi location database is to our Android and mobile product strategy,” Google location service product manager Steve Lee wrote. “We absolutely do care about this (decision by Motorola) because we need Wi-Fi data collection in order to maintain and improve our Wi-Fi location service.”
At the beginning of 2010, because of public concerns, Google had stopped collecting Wi-Fi data from vehicles used to capture street images for Google Maps’ Street View feature. When the vehicles also scanned an area for Google’s location database, Google admitted that in doing so, it inadvertently collected personal data from unsecured wireless networks. Google had turned to collecting location data via Android phones and the Skyhook move was seen as a major threat. Motorola later decided to resume using Google’s location services, and Skyhook Wireless sued Google for patent infringement and interfering in its business relationship with Motorola.
Who’s there? Location veteran Duncan McCall unveiled PlaceIQ at Where 2.0. The company provides meaning to hyper locations, categorizing the types of people, places, social, and digital activity that occurs within a city block or 100 square meters. PlaceIQ doesn’t use personal information but tries to infer information about people situated at a location. For instance, a location might be a trail head at a popular hiking destination or a tourist spot like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Place IQ can identify locations in which an advertiser’s target audience has a likelihood to be present.
Let’s make a deal. Groupon purchased location-enabled social networking company Pelago (Whrrl). Look for Groupon to take on foursquare, which has led in social networks and local check-in market. Groupon will move beyond being a new customer acquisition tool to adding a social platform on which a location-enhanced social community will exchange recommendations and insights on deals. A loyalty program will be added to reward check-ins and usage. Groupon will expand beyond its current local small businesses focus to include national brands and large retailers.
Keep your hand on your pocket. eBay wants to be your mobile wallet. The company just purchased location-based services provider Where. Previously called uLocate, Boston-based Where develops mobile advertising, search, recommendation and daily deals services. Where will be housed in eBay’s PayPal division and used to strengthen the company’s position in mobile and hyper local shopping and deals. This fits with eBay’s earlier acquisitions of local shopping start-up Milo, barcode scanning developer RedLaser, and online retailer GSI Commerce.
Got mail. Last month’s column highlighted indoor location and generated unprecedented mail to my inbox. I mentioned a few companies providing apps that involve indoor mapping or locations, but as many pointed out, there are more. Others include Eakahau, Ehud, Fast Mall, Geodelic, Les Quatre Temps, Point Inside, and Spotlight Mobile. I’d like to clarify that Aisle411 maps offer routing and some interactive capabilities. Choices for indoor positioning include both handset and network solutions like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, U-TDOA, Wi-Fi, radio frequency pattern-matching, and geo-location sensors.
Mapping for good. Ushahidi, a non-profit organization, developed open software and interactive mapping for “crowd voicing” to increase transparency and allow people to document their condition. After the Kenyan disputed election, 45,000 users contributed information about violence and peace activities throughout the country. The platform was also used after the Haiti earthquake. Ushahidi utilizes an elite team of volunteers for coding and other important jobs. Get involved.