Google recently announced a new service called Latitude, which zeroes in on the geographic location of mobile phones to let your friends know where you are, and vice-versa. (You can read more about it here.) Other companies like BrightKite and Loopt have been doing this for a while, but Google's entrance into the arena shines a new spotlight on the functionality and the privacy issues it raises.
One big question on the minds of privacy advocates is whether consumers will be comfortable having their locations tracked as they go about their daily lives.
I cannot imagine any consumer being comfortable with the major mobile providers like Verizon or AT&T selling their location to the highest bidder. However, applications like Latitude allow location tracking to be done in a *somewhat* more benign way. Privacy advocates will still want to know how Google and others plan to treat geographic tracking information they collect—and ensure that consumers understand how their information is being utilized. But moving forward, my bet is that the social networking track-your-friend applications will be the initial platform for location-based marketing.
You heard it here first, but the idea that really excites me is combining location-based tracking with the Facebook-like idea of "friending" a company you like to create a privacy-acceptable location-based marketing solution.
Imagine you love McDonald’s (and McDonalds loves you). So you "friend" them in Latitude or a similar application. Whenever you turn on the application, it alerts your friends to your location, and—assuming you’ve provided permission—it also tells McDonald’s. McDonald’s can determine whether you’re nearby any of its restaurants and offer you promotions and specials that suit your tastes. Or, even more interesting, it may have made a few more Quarter Pounders than it needs, so it can offer a discount of that specific product to customers in the area and sell down the inventory before it goes bad. The marketing (and privacy) implications are staggering.
This may well be the ultimate in engagement marketing.