Friday, March 27, 2009

And then we all bought iPhones and kissed our privacy good-bye

I know. You're on top of things. You've already read this BusinessWeek article, digested its implications for cellphones users and marketers, and moved on but I'm not so sharp. I have to stop and make a note of some things:

A decade ago, during the dot-com and telecom boom, marketers extolled the potential of the mobile Web. They talked of zapping customers with digital coupons just as they passed nightclubs and caf├ęs....This vision fell flat in much of the world, largely for two reasons. First, the early Internet phones offered only rudimentary location-tracking and data service. More important, few customers wanted ads popping up on their phones, especially if they had to pay for them.

The promise of change arrived two years ago in a shiny stainless steel case with a touchscreen. Apple's iPhone, the first computer phone to score a hit among nongeeks, quickly spawned a plethora of me-too devices. All enticed users to shift much of their computing to mobile machines. The result: an explosion of information about people on the move.


Every time a user clicks on an application, whether it's to turn a phone into a radio or make a bid on eBay, the time and place of the event zips straight to the company selling the service. Certain phone manufacturers can also peek at this data, depending on the handset. Naturally, the wireless service provider also sees it and can place it into the context of the user's other behavior, from physical movements to calling patterns. While phone companies have long had a line on customer behavior, the applications add crucial perspective by pointing directly to each person's interests and needs. (Barflies, Sense researchers found, spend more time than others playing an alcohol-themed game on their handsets.) "All of a sudden we have this incredibly rich information on how and where people use their mobile applications," says Ted Morgan, chief executive of Skyhook Wireless, a provider of tracking technology.

Well, thank God we have a new way to engage the barfly demographic. Drunks are so receptive! Just be careful with those company phones:

The privacy implications are considerable. Is it O.K. for a boss to hand an employee a Latitude-loaded BlackBerry and then monitor her whereabouts? Companies that operate fleets of trucks have tracked employees for years. But similar technology in cell phones would potentially let all sorts of companies monitor and measure employee movements.

Good to know before claiming you're working offsite. Hold on. What am I talking about? People who constantly update their Facebook status probably don't care about privacy. No worries!

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