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Checking In or Checking Out: Geo-Regulation

Over the course of the past year, we have frequently touched on how location-based services, specifically geolocation technologies, have facilitated the growth of mobile marketing, discussing topics such as the latest SoLoMo trends and the influential experience of contextual advertising. Now, the government is in the process of moderating a complicated discussion about the future regulation of these powerful technologies.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have joined forces to open a dialogue about high level privacy and security issues related to this data, playing mediator between telecommunications carriers, tech companies, consumer advocacy groups, and academics. A first official bill has recently been introduced to Congress, and it is now intensifying the debate.

Some groups have voiced their support for new comprehensive privacy legislation that would establish baseline privacy rights and requirements applicable to user information such as the data collected by geolocation technologies. On the other hand, a host of entities poised to benefit from the collection of this user data, have vehemently opposed additional regulation or legislation, arguing that businesses have marketplace incentives to be careful about user privacy. This side has argued that given the relative youth of the geolocation industry, the government likely lacks the information needed to create requirements that would meaningfully protect user privacy without stifling innovation and growth.

In the current regulatory environment, location based services do benefit both consumers and businesses. “Self-regulation” has so far been successful; consumers must opt-in to have their location data tracked. Although there have been instances of companies violating or working around this stipulation, there is yet to be a case stemming from the collection of this data. At the very least, consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the associated risks in privacy as the technologies become more commonplace.

What role will geolocation services play in mobile marketing in 2, 5, or 10 years? The future role of this technology will likely depend on a combination of consumer sentiments and some level of government supervision. Until then, consumers’ wants, needs, and expectation continue to drive the geolocation marketplace.

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