We know when you are sleeping, we know when you’re awake…

With the revelation that U.S. Intelligence agencies have been accessing phone and Internet records for hundreds of thousands of people, the issue of online privacy has been front and center in the news recently.

But as marketers, don’t we relish the data mining that’s made possible by smartphone usage? Through geo-targeting we can know exactly where people are when they’re using their mobile device. Then we can send them a custom-tailored message in real time. Pretty cool, right?


Yes, and no. As marketers, the treasure trove of information we now have access to has the potential to fundamentally change the way we communicate with a target audience. But as people, shouldn’t we also be a little concerned about this profound loss of privacy?

A Kansas City TV station recently aired a report about a smartphone function and that report has been banging around the Internet all summer.

The gist of the story is as follows: smartphones leave an invisible geo tracking trail behind them whenever you use them to send a photo. It’s the same technology that lets users find a restaurant and it’s built right into the phone’s operating system.

When this function is activated, it can translate the data attached to your photos into maps. It tells you—exactly—where the photo was taken. Not where you were when you emailed, it, but where you were when you took it. So let’s say you’re in your kid’s bedroom and you take a cute photo with your smartphone. Then at work the next day you share it with family, friends, whoever. By sending that photo, you leave a trail of where that photo was taken. A trail that leads right back to your kid’s bedroom.

There’s even a website that re-posts photos from unwitting twitter users in real time, translating their photos into actual addresses and maps.

It’s easy to turn off the GPS setting on photos you plan to post online. Just go to “settings,” then “location services.” From there you can turn off all of your location services (but that would also disable your maps) or you can go to the setting that controls your camera and turn that off.

But all this raises a deeper question about the use of communications technology. On the one hand it provides mountains of data we can use to target messages to consumers. On the other hand, how is that consumer going to feel about realizing we know exactly where they are, and when they’re there?

It’s a double-edged sword. The rules of the game are still being worked out, but for marketers, we need to be aware that not all of the “personalized” messages we send will be welcomed with open arms.