From cookies to beacons to location data from people’s smartphones, marketers and large tech companies have no shortage of data to help them make conclusions about how people move throughout their daily lives. This week, the practice of tech companies and mobile apps handing over this data so it can be monetized by advertisers came under scrutiny by the New York Times. The expose went into great length to show how tech companies know precisely where people are and when - at any given time - and how marketers are using this information to deliver hyper-location based targeted ads to individuals, raising the alarm that location tracking is an invasion of people’s privacy.
"As a provider of mobile sensor data analytics and behavioural change, we applaud the NYT’s effort to put these practices in the spotlight. Too many mobile apps are exploiting personal data for profit and there is not nearly enough transparency towards the consumer."
The reality is that smartphones have become heavily ingrained into people’s lives and are highly valued because they provide tools and services that help people make their lives easier. People hand over their data to these services in return for them to proactively serve them with the right content, assistance and alerts and form one-on-one relationships that add value to their lives. And they expect these services to be open and transparent about how that data is used. This data exchange – or value exchange, if you will – is not to be underestimated. Consumers should not share or trade their whereabouts and activities if the value returned isn’t translated into much more engaging and relevant experiences.
"What consumers need to know is, there’s more to mobile sensor data than merely leveraging it to serve a promotional offer for discounted coffee the next time they're near a coffee shop."
Sensor data from smartphones open up a world of different opportunities for companies to create one-on-one relationships with people that are truly personalized and always-on. When companies solely focus on pooling consumers’ location data to customize their apps with targeted ads, and sell their data to multiple advertisers without their consent, consumers should not share or trade their whereabouts and activities if the value returned isn’t translated into much more engaging and relevant experiences. Companies can do right by data by leveraging it on a first-party data basis to bring real benefits to consumers, rather than just selling a user’s data to advertisers and treating them like a product.
Here are ways mobile sensor data is being utilized beyond advertising to improve people’s lives. And all of this can be done while safeguarding consumer privacy by combining first-party business models, transparency and advances in edge computing.
Sensor data from smartphones, wearables and connected health devices provide healthcare companies with tremendous opportunities to derive better insights into patients’ real-time context and behaviors. When armed with greater patient context from motion data analysis, healthcare providers can know when it’s best to engage individuals and coach them toward healthier outcomes. For example, healthcare providers are leveraging motion data analysis to create more personalized smart alarms for medication adherence, develop tailored dietary plans that fit the users' individual lifestyles, and determine what behaviors are causing certain health irregularities, then better inform patients how to avoid them. Motion data analysis is also being used for chronic disease management and to coach smokers on how to quit smoking.
Make roads safer and car insurance cheaper
By monitoring the sensors of a driver’s mobile device, ride-sharing, automotive and insurance companies can determine how smooth, anticipative and safe their people drive. Do they use their cell phones while they drive, or do they drive home from a bar every night after work? These insights can inform ride-sharing and insurance companies on how to coach and incentivize their people to improve their driving style, which can help drivers reduce their risk-profile and save money on their insurance bill, and ultimately save people’s lives.
Enhancing the traffic pulse of smart cities
Smartphone sensor data can help smart cities gain rich insights into mobility, commute, and driving patterns of its citizens, which can help cities address the constant challenge of growing traffic congestion. By monitoring the mobility patterns of commuters over time, traffic controllers can offer mobility recommendations tailored to commuters’ specific needs and travel patterns to help them optimize their commute and ensure more efficient and safe transportation.
The NYT investigation did a great job at putting the spotlight on data collection and monetization practices that do not have the best interest of consumers at heart. These practices may be legal but they certainly lack transparency to the end-user.
More importantly, they put at risk other applications of mobile data beyond targeted advertising. In healthcare and mobility for example this data can genuinely improve and sometimes even save lives.
Lets remember to also take these use cases into account as the important debate about the use of smartphone data heats up.