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So what's wrong with being tracked by advertisers?

Mike Elgan | Aug. 12, 2013
Companies are getting more aggressive about using your phone to track you and then send you location-based mobile ads. So what?

Google recently added location-based advertising back to its mobile Google Maps app for iOS and Android. The ads appear on the bottom of the screen and include one-tap access to directions for travelling to the advertised location. Users can also save or share the advertiser information. If advertisers pay for it, users can also "click to call" and also "get location details."

These ads, of course, are related to Maps search. So if you open maps and search for "coffee," the ad will show you a nearby coffee shop owned by a paid advertiser.

The ad placement feature replaces the previous functionality, in which the top hits for Maps searches were nonpaid results.

Google recently revealed that Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) will be able to scan for Wi-Fi networks, even when the Wi-Fi feature is turned off. The Wi-Fi scan-only mode, called "Scanning always available," is designed to conserve battery power because it enables location features without using the battery-hogging GPS chip, and also because it's not connecting you to Wi-Fi networks for user-data transfer, theoretically. The feature can be turned off under the "Advanced" menu in the Wi-Fi settings.

The recently announced Moto X phone, which is the first phone developed by Motorola since Google bought the company, has an entire chip designed to keep location tracking on while consuming minimal battery power. It even tracks the phone when it's in a deep sleep mode.

Everybody's doing it
The major handset makers and mobile operating system developers seem to all share a common desire to track you all the time.

Apple's upcoming iOS 7 will apparently have a feature that keeps track of each user's "Frequent Locations." The feature can be turned off in the Locations part of the Settings.

Location-based social networking is often associated with Foursquare, which was the first "check-in" app to go mainstream. Recently, Foursquare announced that it intends to sell users' location data to an advertising company called Turn, meaning advertising directed at individual Foursquare users could be generated outside of the Foursquare app.

Those ads would appear on phones, tablets and even desktop PCs and would include display and even video ads. Facebook is a partner of Turn, so if you're using Foursquare you can expect to see ads on Facebook targeted at you because of locations from which you've checked in at in the past.

People have been talking about location-based mobile advertising for a long time. Only recently has there been any real innovation coming online.

A company called UberMedia combines online social activity with location history to predict what kinds of products people might like. The company recently ran a campaign that determined that people who followed New York Knicks players on Twitter, or whose location history showed outdoor activity, must be in the market for sneakers. So whenever those users were near stores that sell athletic shoes, they got ads directing them to those stores.


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