Let’s get one thing straight about location tracking


Let’s get one thing straight about location tracking

Privacy matters most when it comes to sensitive data

Consumers could be forgiven for not being able to keep up with all the different ways scrupulous companies try to use their location data for profit. 

Or maybe they’ve just given up on caring. 

These days, every time we download an app or sign up for a new service, there’s a chance that access to location data figures into the mix. 

It’s only when the headlines scream about the most egregious abuses of this data are we reminded that we must be vigilant about protecting it. Yes, I’m talking about “we” as consumers. But most importantly, “we” as an industry on behalf of consumers. 

Real-time data and intrusive tracking are the top privacy killers

The average person probably doesn’t know where ethical advertisers stand on the issue of location tracking. 

For more than a decade, they’ve read all about how mobile advertising is going to do whizbang stuff like offer them a coupon when they walk by a sandwich shop. Or serve up product info when they browse around a department store. 

From BRIDGE’s standpoint, anything that’s real-time is a non-starter. For instance, we should never know that Emily went to Target on Saturday at 10 am, then to Applebee’s at noon and Staples at 2 pm. 

We should never know where a consumer is at any given time. We shouldn’t have info about the days they visit certain places or do certain things. Even if anonymized, we know data can often be de-anonymized if someone wants to try hard enough. So, it’s better not to have it at all. 

We also believe that intrusive tracking that logs visits to certain establishments offering specific types of medical care or that would otherwise reveal sensitive health information or personal data about consumers should never be recorded.

Ethical uses for location data

Consumers do understand that they often exchange location data for apps and services they want. Mobile operating systems have become much better about making it clear when an app wants access to this info. Some go as far as to require consumers to go into their settings and turn it on manually just to prevent them from mindlessly signing their rights away. On top of this, they are offering more granular controls like the ability to only let an app track location when the app itself is being used. They’ll also remind users from time to time if an app is tracking location data in the background. 

That’s a great start toward empowering consumers to control their location data destinies. 

With that said, consumers understand that their location data will be used somehow. Here are the top ethical ways we believe data should be leveraged for advertising: 

  • General shopping trends. Without getting specific about exactly when a consumer visited a business or which specific one, location data can be generalized to share that a certain shopper visits “restaurants” on weekdays and does “retail shopping” on weekends. This is really no different than the type of info collected when consumers shop different websites online. 
  • Foot traffic over time. A retailer may want to understand if an ad campaign resulted in consumers visiting a store. Without sharing the day or time they visited, this information can be reported in aggregate over time, after the actual visit. In this case, retailers would not learn who visited, but rather, the campaign resulted in X number of visitors who were exposed to the campaign. 

We’ve been in this business long enough to know there’s all kinds of data floating around out there about consumers. And it’s all for sale. But that doesn’t mean it’s fair or ethical to use. 

In the absence of concrete regulatory guidelines, BRIDGE believes the industry should work toward developing best practices that guide use of consumer location data. Reputable associations should only accept members that adhere to these guidelines. 

In the meantime, let’s make it a point to stand up for the consumers that help propel our businesses. Get in touch with our data experts to learn more.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Our biweekly newsletter shines a light on the top trends and revenue-generating opportunities for your business.

Share this post with your network

Access Audiences

Fill out the form below to start using our top-ranked custom audiences. 

Get Started
Upgrade to People-Based


Up To 75% Off

June 21-24 * Online Only

Download Now

Access Premium Audiences