Privacy.  It seems as if it’s the media’s only focus every time a location-based or social app or service is mentioned.  With RFID tags, GPS apps, Foursquare, Facebook’s Places, and now iTunes’ Ping, everyone thinks that sharing a bit of info about your likes, dislikes or whereabouts is going to lead to the downfall of civilization.  While everyone must be careful with their personal info, how much detail they share (such as city vs. eight-decimal GPS precision), and how often they share it, there are so many more benefits than drawbacks to these services.  Plus, the risk that the company owning or using the data will do anything that’s harmful and directed at an individual really isn’t even an option.

In 2000, while at business school (and long before Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare), I took a ‘marketing data analytics’ course that focused on clickstream analysis.  Even then, privacy was beginning to become an issue and our instructor summed it up in such a way that I’ve always referred back to his quote:

In the good old days, you went in to your neighborhood market, the owner knew you and what you purchased.  If a product that you liked was back in stock, and the owner mentioned it, you’d be grateful.  If the owner said that, since you liked plums and apricots, you’d also probably like pluots, you’d respond with a big ‘thank you.’

But, if a computer or corporation does the same things, people think it’s creepy.

I may be naïve, but consumers shouldn’t worry about ‘big brother’ drilling down to find out that John Doe purchases too much beer or eats too many donuts. Being a B2B marketer with 50,000+ contacts in my company’s marketing database, I can assure you that the last thing I do is focus on marketing to individuals – it’s all about the numbers and aiming at segments.

For B2C, my 50,000 contact names are nothing.  Facebook has 500 million names – and growing. Marketing a marketing analytics solution for the past two-plus years, we’ve analyzed the behavior, purchasing, and response patterns of millions or individuals – and we’ve never seen a single name.  At best, we have a many-digit number, spread across multiple fields, that has no personally-identifiable information (PII).  Even our customers themselves have a daunting task of tying a name to an activity.  Having worked in tech for over a decade, the privacy fear-mongers obviously have no clue as to the cleanliness, integration, and access challenges companies have with their own data.  In the vast majority of corporate analyses, the data is aggregated or sampled such that connecting information back to a single person is impossible.

Again, consumers must be diligent to protect their privacy through each app’s settings (something that should be much easier than it is today).  But, I can think of dozens of reasons why consumers should embrace these services – from a discount as you walk by a store to interactive dressing rooms at retailers that use RFID tags to suggest complimentary products (and help reduce theft).

Bottom Line:  I look forward to the day that I opt-in to offers from the local coffee shop and am hit with a “free apple fritter with purchase of your double non-fat latte” offer on a Saturday morning.  That’s a privacy risk I’m willing to take! ;-)