In 2010 I wrote on this blog about some of the difficulties
associated with facial recognition and privacy. Although biometric
scanning is becoming more important, it's still not really the
method of choice for advertisers who want to recognise a consumer
in a particular location.
That solution is far more mundane, the good old Smartphone.
In the past couple of years, location based services such as
foursquare and Facebook Places have made it easy for users to
check-in and let their friends know where they are located, based
on location-aware mobile devices.
What's interesting though is that there seem to be few
issues of privacy for advertisers to worry about, if some basic
rules are followed.
Let's imagine a hypothetical scenario. You are a
'fan' of Starbucks cafes on Facebook. You go to one of
their branches and check-in on Facebook Places. You notice that the
café chain has pasted a voucher on your Facebook wall that
can only be used within the next one hour at a specific
To some this might seem an abuse of information. The café
chain knows where you are and the exact time so they can make a
time-bound offer to a specific branch, but think for a moment...
the consumer has already clicked 'like' on the Starbucks
fan page to indicate that they like the brand, and they volunteered
their own location information to Facebook Places.
If the consumer has volunteered all this information, then
surely they are going to be delighted when the chain rewards them
– rather than having any concern about being stalked by a
coffee company – Starbucks or anyone else.
Though social media is involved, all the standard principles of
data protection still apply even in this case. Soon advertising may
be not just directed to an audience of one, but to one person in a
specific place at a specific time too.
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The House of Lords Communications Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the legal and regulatory framework which surrounds social media offences.
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