With the Rise of Social Discovery Apps, Purpose and Privacy Are Key

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Much of the talk this year at SXSW was about social media discovery apps (Highlight, Glancee, Sonar, Banjo, etc.), and it got me thinking about the why and how we should be using location-based services to connect with others — and more importantly the sharing of our data.

One of the most powerful aspects of social location platforms is that they can provide a deeper level of connection to people, places and events. As humans we have a natural desire to connect with those we create bonds with and often seek to grow those networks and groupings based on interest or geography.

This latter point is definitely a growing trend — the ability to go anywhere in world to explore what’s happening. Think of the upcoming Olympics, elections, world events, etc. Human desire creates in us a need to turn to social media to get info from the source and establish new connections; Tools like Banjo have become among the best sources for real time info and pics. They provide the ability to eavesdrop in on real-time conversations anywhere in the world.

There are lots of studies showing that people’s desire to appear popular by amassing large followings (i.e., 500+ “friends”) is in fact not a reflection of true connections. In fact, a study by Robin Dunbar of Oxford University showed that the human brain is limited to maintaining only about 150 meaningful relationships. An even more telling study by Matthew Brashears of Cornell University found that the number of true confidantes the average American has has dropped from three to two over the last 25 years, and that the percentage of people who don’t confide in anyone about important matters has skyrocketed from 8 percent to 25 percent.

Originally created to serve as a photo-sharing utility for a group of 50 friends, Path grew exponentially after a redesign in late 2011. It became so popular that it was featured at a hackathon hosted by an app developer in Singapore. During the event, a disturbing privacy breach was discovered: The Path app was accessing and copying the iPhone’s entire contact list and uploading it to a remote server, all without asking permission. Needless to say, online privacy advocates went crazy with criticism. The privacy concerns even resulted in some congressional hearings.

To the company’s credit, Path now asks for permission before accessing your contact list — but knowing that any app can access info like that without your knowledge can be highly unnerving.

Banjo, which announced last week that it has one million users, alerts users when friends have checked in nearby using services like Facebook or Foursquare. Additionally, you can view current public check-ins, and geotagged tweets and Instagram photos on a map, allowing you to get a feel for social activity in your local area or anywhere in the world. It’s more of a social media-powered location browser than a friend recommendation service like Highlight, which alerts you when other users with similar interests are nearby.

In an interview, Damien Patton – CEO of Banjo says ” To understand how Banjo respects users’ privacy, it is important to understand how the service works.  Banjo shows publicly available social posts from various social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Instagram.  Any post that appears on Banjo appears because the publisher has chosen to include location in his or her post.  Depending on the network and privacy filters of the social network used to publish, the posts shared may be visible to the public generally or to select individuals only. Banjo maintains the privacy settings of its users’ networks so that posts are shared with the intended audience only.”

So, the bottom line is transparency.  When building platforms like these, we must give the user control over their data, privacy settings and the ability to define their likes, dislikes and other preferences.

Personal Empowerment
In an always-connected environment, where users’ activities and behaviors are tracked across the web, we as consumers are the crop whose role is to yield up personal data to Big Data farmers. Today’s marketers are extremely focused how they can maximize the vast amount of data we yield; the different ways that they can analyze, refine, and process this data; and ultimately the monetization of that data.

There is a new personal empowerment coming where consumers participate in markets in their own right.  We will be able to decide if the price is right, and if it’s not, just walk away.

In a Big Data world, where personal data is seen as a corporate asset to be mined and analyzed, we’ll be furnished with the tools to negotiate over the price at which our data is traded. Today that data is simply appropriated. Online services, such as Google and Facebook, insist there is a value exchange. They provide us with a free service and they get our data in return. It sounds great.

New models are emerging however that enable a sense of control.  Witness new companies focused on Small Data, like Personal and Singly that have created personal data vaults (PDVs) where we knowingly contribute our data with the intention of being rewarded each time it’s used by those same marketers that so freely trade it today.

It’s a new world, with new challenges.  The tools are there for us to make stronger connections, engage in dialogue and even make money — we need only embrace them.

Asif R. Khan is a veteran tech start-up, business development and marketing entrepreneur currently serving the community as founder and president of the Location Based Marketing Association (The LBMA). Weekly podcaster at This Week In Location Based Marketing every Monday. Can be found at @AsifRKhan @TheLBMA on Twitter.

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