Sunday, March 28, 2010

Somebody, EVERYBODY, is Tracking You!!

Just read a new blog post by Michael Ingram over at GigaOm titled "Will Facebook be the 'One Ring' for Location?".

Michael describes how Facebook is changing its privacy settings so it can start to implement location based services such as those offered by Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Brightkite, Twitter, etc.  For me this brings up the disturbing question that has building for a while. Do you really want all these online services, and all their unnamed third party partners, constantly tracking you using your GPS-capable cellphone/smartphone? 

In 1984 there was a song titled "Somebody's Watching Me!" that came out from an R&B artist named Rockwell with the chorus lyrics...

"I'm just an average man with an average life
I work from nine to five, hey, hell, I pay the price
All I want is to be left alone in my average home
But why do I always feel like I'm in the twilight zone?"

" I always feel like somebody's watching me
And I have no privacy
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Who's playin' tricks on me?"

I think, whether Facebook becomes the aggregation point for your location or not, there will shortly be a consumer backlash against location/tracking by all these online/mobile social networking services "playing tricks on you and watching you"

The core problem is there really isn’t any significant value for the consumer/individual in allowing corporations to track their location. On top of that lack of value for the individual, there are very disturbing privacy drawbacks if Location-Based-Services (LBS) go mainstream. Imagine hundreds of corporations you aren’t aware of, and all their partner corporations, knowing your location at all times.

Does that give you a warm fuzzy? I didn’t think so.

The value delivered by LBS is all for the business/corporation looking to track us. What's in it for us? A Free coffee here or there? Not worth it. I’m a Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter user so I’m not anything close to a privacy nut.

I’m just saying that I see where this trend eventually goes and if it continues it’s not a happy place. There’s no way the bulk of the population, at least in countries that value freedom, is going to stand still for unfettered and constant GPS tracking of their physical location by dozens or hundreds of companies trying to sell you something.

But there is a win/win approach to this problem that will allow consumers to allow a handful of businesses they know, trust and patronize regularly to have a conversation with them about products and services those consumers want to hear about. And this approach will allow consumers to retain 100% control of the privacy of their identity and location.

My company is going to be delivering a solution this year that takes this approach. It will preserve 100% privacy for consumers but still allow businesses to engage with consumers in a way that works for everyone; consumers and businesses.

How do you feel about the possibility of being electronically tracked all the time and having that information broadcast on social networks and "who knows where else"?