sharing location data

Many Consumers May Be Relaxing on Location Privacy — But Not Necessarily for Ads

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Are Americans opening the door on privacy? Despite initial reservations, a new survey shows consumers are largely open to sharing their location data with brands, as long as it benefits them personally or improves society at large. But comparatively few say they’ll share location data in exchange for ads.

According to a new survey from the enterprise location intelligence firm Gravy Analytics, 73% of consumers say they share their location to improve the functionality of mobile apps, 39% say they share their location to download and use apps for free, and 23% share in exchange for more relevant ads and promotions. 

Those statistics only tell part of the story. 

When asked when they would be willing to share their location data, 71% said they would be comfortable sharing location data in exchange for relevant offers and promotions, and 31% said they would be comfortable using their location data to provide targeted or personalized information in apps or on a website. More than half (56%) said they would be willing to share their data if it meant they could see ads for things they want to buy or activities they want to participate in.

“Our survey shows that companies should use the location information that their customers have shared with them to better understand their customers and improve their experience,” says Gravy Analytics CEO Jeff White. “For example, companies might use insights derived from location data to understand buyer personas, and then use those personas to inform inventory, new product features, or the design of a loyalty program.”

According to Gravy’s survey, consumers are more likely to support using their location data in operational use cases, such as planning for new amenities in a community, rather than for marketing or advertising purposes.

“This was fascinating to me because those types of operational use cases are just starting to emerge,” White says.

Commercial gain, or a lack thereof, plays a role in determining how comfortable people are with sharing location data. Seventy-three percent of consumers say they want their aggregated and anonymized location data to be used to improve emergency response management during natural disasters, and 45% want their location data to be used to improve the quality of key public services, like public transportation. Those figures are substantially higher than the percentage of consumers who’d be willing to share their information for better ad targeting.

The more business marketers learn about consumer preferences toward the use of location data, the more ways they’re finding to use the information to improve both their own businesses and their surrounding communities. From understanding travel patterns and bringing in more tourists to a community, to real estate development planning based on the interests of residents and visitors, White believes we’re only just beginning to discover some of the more creative ways mobile data can be utilized to improve people’s lives.

Data Breaches Still a Concern

Although 68% of consumers in Gravy’s survey cited data breaches as a concern, and 62% said they’re worried about data being traceable to them as individuals, more than half (54%) also said they are “at least somewhat comfortable” with aggregated and anonymized location data collection, and they feel confident the information won’t be traced back to them as individuals. 

Forty-percent of consumers said they’re concerned their location data might lead companies to “infer things about them” based on the places they visit.

The difference between location data and location analytics can sometimes trip people up and lead to misinformation or undue concern. White says he thinks the biggest misunderstanding people have is that location analytics are not aggregated and anonymized. Location analytics reflects the behavior of large groups of people, and it’s completely anonymous.

“Customers still have some concerns with their data being used by businesses, especially when it comes to the threat of a data breach. So, companies must ensure that the data is stored securely and only accessed by authorized users,” White says. “It also makes sense to proactively remove any data that isn’t needed, such as data obtained at sensitive locations, to further reduce that risk.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.