We are all used to, and comfortable with, being contactable virtually anywhere in the world on our mobile phones. How many of us give a thought to the fact that they can also be a tracking device? I was at a conference on privacy and location services a while back, I can hear you yawning already, however, the day was a day of two halves with the morning mainly presentations about the concerns and issues. The afternoon about advances and the opportunities that could lie ahead.
I found myself sympathetic to the concerns, but agreeing that the genie is out of the bottle on this one. We’ll all have to wise up pretty quick and hope that regulation and technology will catch up with the people who are currently forging ahead to use location to create context to otherwise valueless information.
Over the past year you may have noticed increasingly mobile phone networks are forwarding adverts to you based on your location, so as you pass your favorite shop or restaurant you’re texted an offer. No harm in that you think, you don’t have to take up the offer.
I was interested to read an article on the BBC website recently though that took the concept a step further. It used a scenario where your bank joins the equation. Putting together the fact that you’d just entered a shop you like but your bank account was running low, they text you a packaged offer of a loan and a discount in the shop. The bank in question calls it a “personal concierge” and seems quite proud of the ‘service’, however, it raised the issue of where is the ethical debate on the use of all of this data that we “entrust” to people.
Yes, we have data protection laws, however, one false tick, or omission of a tick, in a box and our data is suddenly fair game. Location is the lynch-pin of the data world that potentially adds context to data, and in doing so it unlocks potential value to companies.
Yet most people are unaware of whether they’ve given permission to their mobile phone company to use such data. Well it’s likely you have by default if you had the will to read their privacy policies.
Whilst I’m sure that as of today most people would say that whilst an annoyance, it is a price worth paying for cheap calls and texts, however, if the scenario above was changed to one where as you were passing a casino you we’re offered a loan and bonus chips in the casino. Would this still be the right side of the ethical equation? Almost definitely not if the person was a known gambling addict.
It highlights the increasing need for companies to build in an ethical dimension when designing or adopting new business models as what may seem a good idea can easily turn into a reputational risk overnight.