What Does the Arrival of Approximate Location Mean for Granular Ad Targeting?

Tucked into ​​Android’s latest privacy update is a change that many marketers didn’t see coming. Smartphone owners with Android 12 or higher now have the option to ​share “approximate” location instead of precise location, restricting app developers from accessing their exact whereabouts in real-time.

What does this mean for the location marketing industry, which relies on granular targeting for so many types of services and campaigns?

While developers can still request permission for location tracking for marketing purposes, those users who’ve selected “approximate location” will only share location data that’s accurate within a mile or so. That’s far too imprecise to power most modern geofencing campaigns, and it will make it much harder for marketers to ping customers when they walk inside a mall or a restaurant.

Anticipating pushback from the location marketing community, Google has already stepped in with a slew of suggestions. The company recommends that developers start with a request for foreground location data access — when an app is in use — before later requesting background location data access from existing users. The idea here is that once consumers get comfortable using a certain app, and they fully understand the benefits that precise location provides, they will be more comfortable sharing their location information. 

Cuebiq Chief Product Officer Francesco Guglielmino says this isn’t the first time Google has caused apps to lose background capabilities in favor of foreground interactions. The tide began shifting earlier this year, in an effort by Google to encourage app developers to provide a better experience to end users. This most recent move is in line with other changes Android has made in 2021, such as when the company tightened its ad tracking and analytics IDs policy.

“The scale of high-quality insights has already been impacted; however, we don’t anticipate much more over time. Android has been gradually implementing these changes, and ultimately the goal is a better user experience with the customer fully in control,” Guglielmino says. “This is one of the last steps in the journey of giving more controlling power to the users, and the bonus for the industry is a more stable and predictable future.”

Companies that already embraced the strategic decision to work only with apps with strong reasons for background tracking will feel less of an impact from the Android 12 update, compared to those companies that have been less strict on publisher app selection.

“For [those companies] the impact will indeed be higher … but nothing compared with the enforced prominent disclosure framework and the double opt-in to background location,” Guglielmino says.

Ultimately, Guglielmino believes that forcing publishers to provide a prominent disclosure explaining why they need background location tracking will be good for the location marketing industry. The practice educates the end user and ultimately provides less need for senators and regulators in the room — meaning the market will become more self-regulated.

Guglielmino says that companies like Cuebiq saw these changes coming down the pipeline years ago, and preparations were already made ahead of GDPR and CCPA.

Whether users decide to opt-out of sharing precise location data will largely depend on how successful app developers are in their education efforts. If app developers can figure out how to educate their customers on the benefits of each permission requested, and the related features they offer over time, then they’re not likely to see a huge decrease in users willing to share that information.

“If you opt-out of sharing precise location for a weather app, the app has to tell you their accuracy capabilities may be affected and why you should be sharing your location to get the best out of the app,” Guglielmino says. “At the end of the day, users extrapolate the value they are getting from an app and base their permissions on those determinations.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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