Your location privacy is up for grabs

"Mobile Targeting" is the new catch phrase for advertisers who will sell you anything, anywhere, at any time -- whether you want them to or not

Forget FourSquare. Twitter and Facebook location updates? Feh. Gowalla can go suck eggs. The real action in location will be in direct-to-mobile marketing, according to an interesting article by AdAge's Kunar Patel. He writes:

"It's the ad served while you are reading the news in the morning on an e-reader that knows you're at home and three blocks from a Starbucks. It's a loyalty program on your phone that, through a hotel-room sensor, sets the lights and thermostat and turns the TV to CNN when you walk in the door. It's finding a restaurant in a strange city on a Tuesday night, discovering that a store nearby stocks the TV you're looking for, or that a certain grocery on the way home has the cut of meat you need.

Soon every website and service will be able to tell where you are, opening up the floodgates for location-based marketing and blurring the budget lines for advertisers....

The potential of knowing when and where a consumer is -- within privacy constraints, whenever those get hammered out -- means thinking outside the interactive-advertising budget and dipping into other marketing disciplines' coffers."

I love that little parenthetical he tossed in there -- "within privacy constraints, whenever those get hammered out." Right. Like they're going to hash out all the privacy stuff on the elevator ride down to the Starbucks in the lobby.

Everyone who's looking to cash in on "mobile targeting" -- predicted to be a $4 billion business by 2015, according to that AdAge piece -- gives lip service to the concept of protecting consumer privacy. What they really mean is "doing the bare minimum required to assure consumers it's OK for their mobile providers to sell their location information while still giving us access to all that juicy data."

What's the problem with tracking your location -- and really your behavior, since they often amount to the same thing? Let me take Kunar's first graph and spin it just a little differently.

"It's the ad served while you're reading the news in the morning on your e-reader that knows you're at home and prompts a collection agent to call you about those overdue car payments. It's the loyalty program on your phone that, through a hotel room sensor, turns on the 24/7 porn channel when you walk in the door, since that's what you watched last time you stayed at that chain (though, in that instance, you weren't checking in with your spouse). It's finding that a certain grocery on the way home has the cut of meat you need, which will in turn send an alert to your insurance company telling them to raise your premiums, since your cholesterol score is well above 200."

An exaggeration? Perhaps. But not much of one. It's the flip side of information sharing that nobody likes to talk about. Once you've uncorked the bottle for your location data, you can't really tell the genie where it can and can't go. And that's assuming you get to make the choice about uncorking -- that your data isn't automatically shared until you've opted out.

Location-based marketing is still in its infancy. But standards for geo-location privacy are even further behind. The US Congress has begun hearings on the commercial use of location data, but given the speed at which it tends to move, the use of that data will be well entrenched before any concrete guidelines are enacted.

At the very least, the issue deserves more than eight words tossed into the middle of a sentence.

Do you worry about location privacy? Why or why not? Leave your eloquent yet pithy comments below. And when you're done, follow Dan Tynan on Twitter (@tynan_on_tech) and read his snarkicisms on his geek humor site, eSarcasm.

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