Paul Hanrahan
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Lessons from Snapchat...On Geolocation and Data Protection.

If you pay attention to technology developments, perhaps you’ve heard about the recent Snapchat controversy.

A new feature allows users to see where their friends are, on a map, in real time. It was received with understandable concern and child-safety warnings. This prompted a statement by the ICO, the independent Information Commissioner’s Office, which eventually confirmed that Snapchat had followed the necessary legal procedures.

For Snapchat, this vote of confidence from the ICO came as good news. But for the rest of us experimenting with geolocational technology, it is a careful warning of what we must bear in mind when handling sensitive data – such as somebody’s physical location.

Why geolocation

Getting brand information direct to your phone is quicker, slicker and more personal than just about any other form of advertising. Smartphones are a staple of everyday life. A recent study from eMarketer found that almost 60% of digital purchases will be made on smartphones, making them more important than ever.

The possibilities presented by knowing your audience’s location are game changing. Perfect for marketing on a small budget, it allows for efficient campaigns that target those most likely to respond because they’re in the relevant location.

Several cultural organisations have put the tactic to work already, including Shakespeare’s Globe, and groups in Edinburgh.

What you need to know

The important thing to remember with geolocation services is transparency. If you hold people’s locational information, there are a host of data protection regulations which you must comply with.

If you don’t have consent to access someone’s location information, or they’re unaware of who you are or what you’re doing with their information, then you could find yourself at risk. As with many new marketing tools they offer exciting potential. The trick is to understand and manage any risks they might bring.

Main image credit: Bat Bokeh by Philippe Charles (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)