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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?

A company called AdNear is like other location-based advertising companies, but with one killer twist: It doesn't rely on GPS for location data. Instead, it has painstakingly mapped the locations of cell towers and Wi-Fi routers, and determines location by triangulating those. One benefit of this approach is that it works indoors and in big cities where GPS signals might be limited.

Some companies are indeed taking advantage of the growing number of ways we can be tracked via our smartphones.

That sound you don't hear is the consumer backlash that isn't happening

A new smartphone case designed to thwart such tracking just met its Kickstarter crowd-funding goal this week. But I wonder how it will fare in the marketplace.

The case, called OFF Pocket, was described by one of my social media followers as "a tinfoil hat for your phone."

The concept is simple: No matter what your phone's settings are, no Wi-Fi, mobile broadband, Bluetooth, RFID, GPS or NFC wireless signal can reach your phone because it will be physically blocked by the materials OFF Pocket is made with: "metalized fibers."

But OFF Pocket and products like it face an uphill battle. The truth is that consumers are generally happy to be tracked, as long as there's a perceived benefit to them.

In a recent survey sponsored by YP, a search, media and advertising company, 61% of the mobile phone users polled said that they give permission for mobile apps to access their "current location." (A recently spun-off former division of AT&T, YP is the company behind

The bottom line of all this tracking is that location data harvested from your phone will be used like cookies are with desktop Web browsing. The "real world" will work like the online world, in which your activities will result in highly targeted ads.

The knee-jerk impulse may be panic in some quarters, so let me ask an obvious question: So what?

What's wrong with being tracked for the purpose of giving companies the ability to direct relevant advertising at you?

After all, the alternative to good ads (the ones promoting things you actually want to buy) isn't zero ads. The alternative is bad ads — constant sales pitches for stuff you don't want. (Another name for unwanted advertising is spam.)

Don't get me wrong — there are privacy considerations to be reckoned with. But isn't the best way forward to grapple with those issues while learning to accept highly relevant, location-based contextual advertising?

I don't want my private location information falling into the hands of crooks, con artists, identity thieves or a Constitution-violating government. But I do want to live in a world where the advertising I see more accurately reflects the goods and services I would want to buy.

What's wrong with that?


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