Opting In: The Problem With Location-Based Ads

“There’s an app for that.”

This is a phrase widely used by Apple during the conception of the smartphone era. Back then, apps were much less complex, and there wasn’t an app for everything. 

In 2016, there really is an app for nearly everything, and the complexity of these mobile applications evolves further every day and gives them more utility and ability to extract more data. With such rapid growth, consumers simply can’t keep up with understanding what happens behind the curtain of an app, making privacy an increasingly pressing matter.

Open nearly any app and you’ll initially be prompted to allow push notifications, followed by the question, “Allow XYZ to access your location while you use the app?’” Most people (myself included) quickly tap “Allow,” assuming it’s required to start using the app.

Some apps actually do require location-based data to operate (i.e. Uber, Yelp, etc.), but most applications can function without this personal data. But the app’s publisher’s partners (and their partner, and that guy’s partner, etc.) want the data from as many users as possible. In fact, many apps are developed solely to siphon this unnecessary data from unassuming consumers.

Tapping “Allow” is so easy, especially when most apps provide no information concerning the purpose of tracking your personal data. This increasing degree of “opting in” is closely related to the current privacy concerns. Content publishers are banking on consumers forgetting which apps and what data they’ve consented to give. A majority of these apps don’t require location data, and it’s time these ad tech companies quit using creepy tactics to track consumers.

Next time an app attempts to access your location, make sure the application actually requires that data to function. We can’t allow online ads to be a one-way street; ads should be beneficial for both the publisher and the consumer.