Location Based Advertising: Super Convenient or Big Brother in Action?

Ye Good Olde Days of Advertising… thirsty? Now you are!

Imagine yourself walking by a Starbucks. Suddenly, your phone beeps urgently, alerting you to the fact that you are in the vicinity of Starbucks!  Would you like to take a break for some coffee?

Or you are driving by Macy’s, and suddenly your phone beeps again. Did  you know that the pair of boots you browsed last week online is 10% off? Like, right now this very second, and won’t be anymore if you drive past this store! Does this sound a little bit like the visual advertisements targeting people in Minority Report? If it does, that’s because it is… albeit in a less invasive manner than retina scans. Welcome to the world of Location Based Advertising (LBA).

The process described above is what is called the “push” approach to LBA, which allows companies to target mobile users unless or until they opt out. There is another approach to this, in which mobile users can voluntarily enter their information into a search application, such as looking for a deli while visiting a city, and the app will return results with a map and even coupons for a free drink or appetizer. Yay!

LBA represents a way to market ads far more efficiently than traditional advertising, where a company’s advertising dollars go to pay big name celebrities to talk about why such and such a product is awshum. The only problem is that you, the company, have to believe and have faith that your celebrity endorsements are paying off, as you have no easy way to determine if your sales have gone up based on the millions you have just spent. Companies can now spend much less on ads that are more personalized and more effective, while, more importantly, providing tracking data to show how much these advertisements are paying off.

LBA is not going away. With advertising slowly catching up to the mobile medium, LBA is going to be big, being expected to net $15 billion by 2018. (Source) The only hangup with LBA services can be summed up in one word: Snowden.

For years the public at large did not pay much attention to how the heck their information somehow miraculously got absconded from their computers and phones and appeared into the digital atmosphere. Since the revelations of Edward Snowden, however, there is a growing awareness that this information is not lost to the ether. We now know that every single thing we do online is captured by government computers and stored in government databases, potentially forever, in the name of fighting terrorism. LBA represents the latest way for the government to know almost everything about you.

But before we go too far, it is useful to note that LBA is not a conspiracy theory. It is a conspiracy fact, that it’s a conspiracy to make money which doesn’t directly involve Big Brother. The fact is, Google’s meteoric rise is due in part to their analytics technology which can form an accurate depiction of who you are based on the websites you visit. This allows Google to target ads to you based on who their algorithms think you are. Since the advent of smartphones, you can browse from a device which gives your location to someone at all times. This is also not a conspiracy theory, it is conspiracy fact, the phone companies conspiring to use technology to make money. The simple reality is that for the phone company to support your device, provide you with internet, deliver your texts and connect your calls, it has to know where your device is. Even if you choose not to share your device location with this or that provider, app, or website, your service provider absolutely knows your device’s whereabouts (and by extension, your own) at all times. While the question of how involved the government was in producing these devices may be in the realm of conspiracy theory, that the technology works in this fashion is a matter of fact. Since Snowden, we know that the government collects all of this data from the telecoms, Google and Yahoo and any other of numerous web applications and services.

Irrespective of the motivations of developers and engineers, or how active the government may or may not be in tracking your movements, any and all information obtained by your device to target ads to you will be collected. LBA could be an awesome convenience, particularly when goodies like a coupon for this or that are involved (can you imagine the effect it would have during an event like Black Friday?), but it also allows Big Brother to take in all the information. Given the market potential, Location Based Advertising is here to stay, and, unfortunately, so is Big Brother. You win some, you lose some. It’s up to you to decide how much you lose.

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Tales of Failed Google Social Networks

With every successful social media network (think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), there is a social media network flop. You might have trouble remembering the ones that didn’t make it since you may have never heard of them or heard of them only in passing. What makes a social network take off and what makes a flop? The best social networks make sharing with the people you want to share with easy. There are ways to easily identify privacy (although this is a touchy subject with Facebook) and it is clear how to share. Connections are made and users have fun playing with the different settings. To me this describes the social networks I enjoy using. When planning for new social networks, it’s not that this isn’t considered, but for one reason or another, timing isn’t right and the network doesn’t take off.

In this post, I’ll share a few Google social network flops and my opinion about what didn’t work with each. There may be more opinions on why each network was passed over by the masses, so please share your opinions below in the comments. I’d also love to hear what you think makes a social network stick.

Google Buzz

BuzzWasn’t this essentially Twitter? Yes! (at least that is what it felt like) Launched in 2010, Buzz was the social network that worked in tandem with other sharing tools, alongside your email contacts. Using Buzz, you could share to networks including, Twitter, FriendFeed, YouTube, and Blogger. It even integrated so that you could like an article on Google Reader straight from your Gmail account or mobile. Poor privacy control, alongside the idea that users want to share social content with their email contacts, quickened Buzz’s demise. Just days after Buzz launched, Gmail users realized their email contact lists were public without their consent (they never explicitly signed up for Buzz). This sparked a giant privacy controversy that caused many to not even give Buzz a shot. Google ended up in a lawsuit and paid a fine to the tune of $8.5 million. Lesson learned: keep privacy policies clear and make sure users understand the goal of the network.

Google Orkut

OrkutOrkut could have been Facebook. It even could have been Google+, but it never had that chance in the United States. Facebook launched a month after Orkut in 2004 and the rest is history. Orkut is the social network of Brazil and India, however. So timing didn’t ruin everything, although Facebook has been gaining in traction for a while now in those countries. If you visit Orkut.com and are logged into your Google account, you can check it out. Feels like an outdated Google+ to me!

Google Dodgeball

DodgeBallAcquired in 2005 by Google, Dodgeball was ahead of its time. Essentially a mobile check-in service,  users weren’t ready for mobile location awareness. In 2005, we weren’t using our cell phones like we are now and people may not have understood the value of sharing places and locations with others. Google shut down this service in 2009 and replaced it with Google Latitude (which if you weren’t aware, was shut down in August of this year). Also, in 2009, the founder of Dodgeball created FourSquare and the mobile check-in app took off like wildfire (which coincidentally, is another name of a social product acquired by Google).

What do you think?

Would you have thought these products would have lasted for such a short time? Why did they not make it and others did? Share your opinions by commenting below!