Mobile Location Becomes Invisible

Maps and navigation are not yet mainstream, but they are more useful as product features anyway. This means that location is no longer a service like maps or navigation but is increasingly an enabler of new product experiences.

  • Location and maps are increasingly becoming features of new mobile products and services.
  • Location will happen automatically, behind the scenes. Adjustments will be invisible from a user perspective (think about the automatic weather update on your home screen widget).
  • Relevancy of local data will improve quickly. The era of basic point of interest (POI) information is over. Enriching addresses with more accurate information on opening hours, real-time data (traffic information, promotions, etc.), product/brand data, dynamic data (consumer reviews, inventory information) will deliver greater consumer benefits.
  • New algorithms will bridge the physical and digital worlds. Coupling more accurate local data with user context and other sources of information will foster the development of crowdsourcing and predictive analysis (e.g., predicting traffic congestion or air quality monitoring). Moving forward, these new algorithms will have far-reaching consequences well beyond mobile.

Consumer product strategists should think beyond location alone but should couple this feature — which will be increasingly accurate, particularly indoors — with other data sources, such as user context and past behaviors.

However, invisibility will raise privacy and identity fears.

I was not surprised to receive a great deal of feedback from my contacts in Europe regarding my previous post “The Future Of Mobile Is User Context,” where I mentioned that, in the long run, consumers will voluntarily give up privacy in exchange for the benefits of mobile convenience. Several of my European contacts reached out to me directly, saying that consumers would never, ever “bargain” their privacy.

So let me clarify a few points:

  • Firstly, I think that different regions of the world interpret the notion of privacy very differently. There is huge emotional response associated with it for political, historical, and cultural reasons.
  • Secondly, overcoming privacy concerns will take time and will only happen if: 1) consumers are in control; 2) services delivered are really more personalized and convenient; and 3) a new ecosystem of trusted aggregators of data emerges.
  • Thirdly, and from a more personal standpoint, I agree that citizens should care about this and make sure that regulators have the resources they need to play their watchdog role.

Users need to be convinced that they can control their privacy whenever they want, regardless of whether they face a real risk or only think they do.

I would welcome your thoughts — feel free to join in the conversation

For clients wanting to know more about location-aware services, I just published a new report available here.


Location services are perceived very differently in Europe

Hi Thomas,

As an American that's lived in France for over 3 years now, total, I agree wholeheartedly that Europeans are much more concerned about privacy and location services than Americans. Foursquare, for example, is something that seemed (and still does, I would argue) like a really bad idea ; "why would I let strangers know where I am?" is a question I've heard often.
That said, location services offer real benefits, but users need to be able to opt out and choose what they do and do not share. Looking forward to your next work !

Michelle @Seesmic

Mobile and Privacy

Thomas, I think you overlook a key point on privacy and the differences between the world and Europe. I deal with the privacy issues everyday in managing our social media use for our global IBM needs and I have looked at this issue in detail. I also lived in the UK for 8 years so I can appreciate a bit the cultural differences, but I offer a different conclusion. Europeans on average seem to have a deeper and more analytical understanding about the possible misuse of personal information. Their vigilant approach to this matter stems from the fact that they can see how information can quickly be misused by those with most money which in the end leads to monopolization. In the US we tend to be less concerned by this factor and our mainstream media has a lot to do with it. Just look at how many news sources are being consumed by the average American and compare that with Europeans. If I'm able to push the news to the masses in only 3-4 main channels then I can persuade the masses easier which in turn helps me alter their consumer and political views. If I have a lot of money, I can troll through the tons of digital trails exposed by non-privacy fearing individuals and then leverage that information to my economic or political advantage. So in short, its not so much a cultural issue that makes Europeans more weary of privacy matters, but rather a better systematic understanding of the possible abuses of such data.