Federal agencies and lawmakers are targeting technology and wireless companies that collect sensitive geolocation data from people’s mobile devices. The increased scrutiny may impact brand marketers who rely on the data as a valuable indicator of consumer behavior.
Mobile privacy has become a hot topic in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in Roe v. Wade to overturn the ruling establishing the constitutional right to abortion. Since then, lawmakers and regulators have raised concerns that location data could be used by law enforcement agencies in states that restrict abortion to identify women who requested the procedure.
“If consumers are using apps on their phone and quickly tapping ‘yes’ to ‘use geolocation data pop-ups’, they shouldn’t worry about their data being endlessly sold to advertisers, individuals or law enforcement agencies,” read letters to Amazon and Oracle this month, written by a group of House Democrats asking for more information about their data policies. “Data collected and sold by your company could be used by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in states with aggressive abortion restrictions.”
The Federal Trade Commission also said it will take action against the illegal use and disclosure of highly sensitive health data collected through smartphones, connected cars, wearable fitness trackers, smart home products and web browsers. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation into how the largest wireless companies handle personally identifiable information, including geolocation data.
The renewed concern about privacy in geolocation comes as more and more marketers rely on the information to gain insights into consumer behavior. Visits by people to shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and other locations can help advertisers evaluate the impact of advertising campaigns on foot traffic. According to a study by location data company Foursquare, nearly three-quarters (71%) of marketers use the data to deliver location-based advertising to connected devices.
Privacy concerns may hurt advertisers as lawmakers are pushed to the tipping point of passing a federal privacy law that restricts how companies, including big tech companies, can collect, store and use people’s data. The proposed US privacy law, passed this month by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a significant step toward law, would severely limit the transmission of “precise geolocation information.” The information can usually be collected via connected devices such as smartphones.
The proposed law has not been approved by the entire House and Senate, and also faces objections from several attorney generals who do not want their stricter privacy standards to be preempted. Under the Data Protection Act, consumers could opt out of targeted advertising and the transfer of data covered by the Act to third parties such as data brokers. You would also have the right to access, delete, correct and export certain types of data.
Find other data signals
With the possibility that federal law could give consumers more control over their personal information — and the ability to sue companies that break the law — marketers may need to reconsider how they use people’s personal information for ad targeting. Other data signals, such as contextual information about where their ads appear, are likely to regain importance.
“We urged advertisers to think about the future of ad targeting,” Stephanie Liu, privacy and marketing analyst at consulting firm Forrester, said in a phone interview. “Today, unfortunately, a lot of conversations with marketers are about how to maintain the status quo.”
Keeping things as they are includes grouping audiences into segments based on personal information collected directly from consumers and through data brokers. Liu said these practices have resulted in an inferior consumer experience that hurts brands.
“We need to discuss the frustrations, the scary experiences we created for consumers that irritated them,” she said, “and think about what’s a better way forward where there’s more transparency and they.” [consumers] understand what data is collected on them and how it is used.”
Marketers have been looking for an alternative to tracking cookies that help identify consumers as they visit different websites, especially after Google first announced in January 2020 that it would be phasing out the technology in its popular Chrome browser. The company delayed those plans again this week, this time into the second half of 2024. The announcement came a few weeks after Google said it would quickly delete location history for people visiting medical facilities like abortion clinics — a another sign of how the overturning of Roe v. calf drives the debate about privacy in geolocation.
“The targeting mechanics we’ve taken for granted — the fact that we can build very specific segments of people who’ve passed a competitor’s business — shows that this level of granularity is unlikely to last much longer,” he said liu
Potential federal restrictions on geolocation data would follow the major disruption Apple caused last year with the launch of App Tracking Transparency (ATT). The privacy measure warned consumers when apps asked for data advertisers use for targeting and urged customers to opt-in to data sharing.
“Data providers and providers of location-based advertising are likely to be impacted by changes in the law about the use of location data,” Omri Argaman, chief growth officer of mobile marketing platform Zoomd, said via email, “but for most marketers, Apple’s app tracking is changing and what’s to come.” end of the cookie will have a greater impact.”