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Tracking Location Creeps Us Out

March 4, 2013

Using Co-Location not Location-based capabilities to deliver a social networking service.

Lets face it, very few people turn on their GPS except for a specific purpose, such as getting map directions.  We intuitively understand that when GPS is on we are being tracked by the company behind the app and/or perhaps the mobile phone maker or network provider.  Its one thing for someone to know what information about ourselves we explicitly put in the cloud, its a whole other thing for some commercial entity to be tracking where you are and when you are there (Governments reserve special privileges in this regard…nothing we can do about that in our app).  What may be less intuitively obvious is that these same companies can correlate your location-based information with other location information sources (such as someone else’s mobile GPS information) so that they can look for patterns over time, inferring who you are friends with, predicting where you will be in the future. It may be cool to turn up at your favourite coffee shop and have your regular order waiting without even asking – but imagine that movement pattern information be hacked and used for more nefarious purposes?  It makes you shudder.  Imagine less scrupulous businesses using that information and what they could do…all within the current internet and privacy laws, or because you checked their long-winded T’s & C’s without reading them closely – who does?

They’ll claim all this data is anonymised to protect your privacy – but at what point does a specific movement pattern plus other anonymised data such as age, gender, work location, the fact you own two dogs, or a red ford car etc start to fully define you…just without a name attached?

We pondered the dilemma and challenge of delivering location-based mobile app value without know where you are – could it be done?

The answer was to stop thinking about location-based services, and instead think about Co-Location based services.  For a social network like the Krowd there is value in knowing who is nearby, but for the purpose of connecting co-located people together it became obvious we did not need to know where in the world you are, just that you are in proximity of others, and to do this we don’t need GPS turned on.

We go one step further – because of course we do know who you were recently co-located with – and that is information you may not want tracked over time. Hence we only store the last few Krowds that you were in – we plan some cool features around this data – we don’t think our customers will care if we know where they have been the last few days, but not the last week, month, year etc – if you do…leave a comment below. We’ll be enabling the tracking of this policy by our board of trustees who ensure the privacy of your data on our customers behalf, and ensure app feature changes remain in alignment with the policy of not storing information about our users except as needed to deliver the service they demand of us.

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