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Caught in the Crossfire of the Geolocation Wars [SXSW GeoWars]

I have a bad feeling about this

The GeoWars were in full frontal attack this week at SXSW. While the main battle was being fought between Foursquare and hometown favorite, Gowalla there were dozens of other location based services hoping to get some attention. I have said several times that there is no “offline” or “online” there just is. This is becoming even more apparent as geolocation heats up.

Twitter itself kept prompting me all week to enable my location on posts and we know that Facebook will soon be adding geolocation data to their status updates. But something you may not realize is that even if you opt out of Twitters location feature your location can still be identified.

I’m going to repeat that for the people just scanning the post:

Even if you opt out of location based features your location can still be identified!

Lego Star Wars meets Dr Who

Forthcoming tools like Recognizr make it impossible to hide who you are from the Web now a new set of tools make it so you can’t hide where you are from the Web. And actually hiding from the Web seems outdated. It’s more like the fourth dimension or the Matrix.

The main reason for this is because of the rise of mobile. Even without mobile, IP addresses are easily enough identified but mobile has many more ways. Anytime you post on your phone the location of  your updated can be tracked by GPS, by triangulating your location based on cell towers, plus every picture you take on smartphones has geolocation data embedded in the code. That’s why people can do cool Flickr map mashups.

I saw two services this week that demonstrated how it’s impossible to hide in this new matrixed world we live in.

Tweetsii - Is available for the iPhone only and besides being a full Twitter client also pulls in data from Foursquare and Gowalla. From their own site:

Tweetsii connects people and places across networks. Tweetsii is breaking the wall between the real world and the digital world, where power of the Internet is in real time to have more fun, meet more people, and do more cool stuff…

Stalqer: Is also available for the iPhone only but goes a step further by achieving an “always on” in the background state by setting up an email address on your phone. This provides for a lot more functionality. From TechCrunch:

In addition to background functionality, Stalqer lets you import your Facebook friends, via Facebook Connect, to the app. If your friends have made their general location public via Facebook, The app then syncs your friends with your iPhone contacts and will then show you where your friends are. So, Stalqer will basically pull any public information about your friend (i.e. what city they live in) and show where the friends is on your application, if if they haven’t downloaded the app. At the moment, you cannot see anyone on Stalqer who is not your friend on Facebook.

Don't upset a Wookie

These location based services are being driven by marketers. In our quest for better marketing data are we becoming too reckless? At SXSW danah boyd presented on the dangers of marketers assuming that data should be public by default and private when necessary. The general public is not aware of the potential ramifications, or even how public and identifiable their data is. And to be honest I don’t think anyone understands the full ramifications. We need to tread lightly, if for no other reason that we’re about to scare the general public really bad. I don’t think having our data open puts in anymore risk than we were before, but I could easily be wrong.

My advise to clients is to be very careful here. Treat marketing with location data like approaching a wild animal. Make lots of noise, make sure they know what you’re doing and have respect. Because when the public gets scared by this, they will rip someones face off.

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Photo 1: by Don Solo
Photo 2: by icedsoul photography .:teymur madjderey
Photo 3: by Balakov

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

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