It’s Not About You: Consumers’ Changing Attitudes Toward Location Data

January 12, 2023

Consumers are more interested than ever in the topic of privacy and how companies may use information about them, particularly as B2C businesses ranging from retailers to restaurants, consumer electronics to food and beverage brands, all strive to learn more about their customers in order to best serve them and succeed as businesses. While some consumers are concerned about their data being accessed by companies, others love the personalized offers and enhanced customer service that come with a company understanding their interests and preferences. Many consumers are more than happy to provide a company with their personal information in exchange for coupons, birthday gifts, or other benefits.

Happy young businessman using smart phone standing in office hallway.

There are several types of data a company could analyze to better understand their customers, such as basic data like names and contact information, email open rates, purchase history data, and more. Location data is one type of data that provides insight into the places of commercial interest consumers visit in the physical world, which can illustrate larger consumer behavior trends, interests, and preferences.

So how do consumers really feel about their data being used by companies? We recently surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers and found that overall, consumers are open to sharing data if it benefits them personally. More than seven in ten (73%) said they share their location information to improve the functionality of an app, and nearly four in ten (39%) said they have done so to download and use apps for free. And, believe it or not, 23% of respondents said they have shared their location information in order to receive relevant ads and promotions.

While 68% of consumers fear their personal information could be impacted by a data breach and others have expressed concerns over how data about them could be potentially misused, the fact is, from a location data perspective, observing the individual movements of a singular consumer is simply not useful. Moreover, if this functionality did exist, it would quickly be shut down by regulators. What one person does is, in itself, not interesting. What millions of people do, however, is fascinating.

How Is Location Data Secured and Protected?

At the core of the confusion are claims from privacy advocates that location data isn’t really anonymous. The confusion may lie in the concept of the Mobile Advertising ID (MAID). Mobile advertisers use MAIDs, strings of numbers generated by a device’s operating system, to improve ad targeting, such as sending an ad for a local music event to people who have a history of visiting music festivals and concert halls. Because of this, many assume that location data providers leverage the MAID to get their personal information and sell intimate details about them to other companies. This is false.

The fact is that most location data providers, including Gravy Analytics, decouple the MAID from all other mobile location data collected and replace it with a proprietary pseudonymous identifier.

What’s more, in the absence of federal guidelines or legislation regarding how location data is collected, stored, and used, the industry proactively built self-imposed controls. Organizations like the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) have unveiled self-regulatory standards that place limits on the use of location data that can identify an individual’s specific movements when it comes to “sensitive points of interest.” These locations include sites where LGBTQ+ individuals might congregate, places of worship, healthcare providers, military bases, and other locations.

All Gravy data, products, and services are checked with PrivacyCheck, which is an extensive blocklist of more than 500,000 sensitive locations in the U.S. alone. This important privacy-enhancing technology also allows other businesses to check to see if their own data matches any sensitive locations. Any data associated with these locations can then be flagged for removal.

Furthermore, we have taken it a step further by developing our top five privacy commitments. These commitments include:

  • Following the law: We adhere to the requirements put in place through the CCPA, GDPR, and other privacy regulations that are increasingly becoming law around the world.
  • Protecting data: The data we possess is stored securely in our cloud environment and is accessed and delivered through secure channels.
  • Influencing the industry: We are an active member of the NAI and continue to support the advancement of privacy standards for the geolocation data industry through our activities.
  • Adhering to consumer permissions: Gravy works with our data suppliers to ensure the data we process comes from device users who have granted permission to the collection of device identifiers and geolocation signals. We do this whether the laws in the country, state, or region in which the device is located require us to do so.
  • Enabling opt-outs: The Gravy privacy team diligently responds and complies with each privacy request we receive in a timely manner.

Consumer Sentiment: Today and in the Future

Recent headlines have brought location data back into the privacy discussion. An unexpected fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was the idea that women who live in a state that recently banned abortion and travel out of state to get the procedure might face harassment or prosecution should law enforcement access their location data from their mobile device, and identify them as someone who recently visited a women’s healthcare clinic. In reality, these fears come from a misunderstanding that the data can identify specific people and their exact locations. It empirically does not. Additionally, having access to pseudonymous location data helps identify areas where access to services is a real issue.

The increasing digitization of the economy could mean that it is only a matter of time before all individual and location data is made available. And, while this can make some consumers nervous about how their personal information might be used, many are becoming more educated on what is – and, more importantly, what is not – captured, stored, managed, and used.

This blog is part of our five-post blog series on location intelligence that aims to educate readers about location data and its uses, while also dispelling common misconceptions. To learn more about how your organization can benefit from the use of location intelligence, contact an expert from Gravy Analytics today.

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