Location-based firms see mobile profit, user worries
Location-based services have proved lucrative but cause some consumer jitters
IDG News Service - The location-based mobile services industry is already lucrative but has to do a better job easing consumers' fears about invasion of privacy, some executives said on Wednesday at the GPS-Wireless conference.
"The technology business [and] the advertising business has done a terrible job ... of saying, 'How do the consumers feel about this?'" said Duncan McCall, co-founder and CEO of PlaceIQ, which converts location information into intelligence about specific areas.
Sharing location information today is viewed with suspicion just as sharing credit-card numbers on the Web was 15 years ago, and it will evolve as well, McCall said.
However, the industry's conduct plays a role too, said Bryan Trussel, co-founder and CEO of Glympse, which offers a service for sharing your location to specific people for a limited time.
"It's not just about consumer education, it's also about people being responsible on the other end of it," Trussel said. While carriers typically are, some app developers have taken risks with users' data, he said.
Recent scandals have not helped the cause, panelists said, probably referring to disclosures about Carrier IQ's phone software and about mobile apps accessing iPhone address books. Lack of transparency has caused problems, said Joel Grossman, chief operating officer of Location Labs. Such problems have worked against a positive trend, he said. "Users, I think, are starting to trust more and more the carriers to protect their private data," Grossman said.
Location Labs sells a service that notifies parents where their children are. The company has focused on being highly transparent, with regular reminders about what information it uses, and keeps that service limited to the users on a subscriber's own family plan. "Transparency and control are how you get by the creepiness factor," Grossman said.
The conference, which continues through Thursday in Burlingame, California, finds a well established industry playing in a new world of mobile applications.
The LBS (location-based services) industry that grew up around navigation and other applications of GPS (Global Positioning System) is now integral to the mobile revolution and is powering popular services and valuable advertising, representatives of software and services companies said on two panel discussions. Technologies that once were intended primarily for consumers finding out or disclosing where they were have become the foundations of applications built on top of those capabilities, they said.
For example, startup FourSquare built its all-mobile application around consumers' ability to "check in" to their current applications, but found last year that consuming location and other information was becoming the bigger part of its business, according to Holger Luedorf, vice president and head of business development. All the data that the app collects can help consumers follow their friends' recommendations and find out what's popular nearby, and businesses have tapped into Foursquare for locally targeted advertising, Luedorf said.
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