Did Mobile Marketers Just Lose A Route To Dodgy Location Data?

It was always one of the most obvious ways of marketing to people. Log on to our Wi-Fi and we will capture your data and location and show you ads based on it.

At least, I guess it was a clear value exchange. But after yesterday's news of a massive data compromise, could it become a thing of the past?

More than 10,000 people have had their personal information put at risk online in a breach which, the Wi-Fi company that is responsible claims did not include financial information and was not found by hackers. However, it was found online by the BBC, and so it is not the greatest defence.

Yes, your data was compromised, but we don't think any hackers noticed? It doesn't quite add up, does it? Even if the information wasn't discovered, which is unlikely, it really shouldn't have been out there waiting to be discovered.

A lot of travellers will be asking some serious questions now about taking up a train station or airport up on on their offer of free Wi-Fi. The same may well go for people sipping a coffee in a cafe trying to keep up with emails at the expense of general Wifi, rather than their own 4G data allowance.

For marketers, this is potentially serious. I'm always surprised by the ease at which digital marketing campaigns can tap into location data. Regular readers of this column will know I have predicted this freely available location data will one day be challenged by the ICO.

Location data is picked out under GDPR as a special category for which explicit, informed consent must be given. It can't be just assumed when someone takes your Wi-Fi and it cannot be hidden away in a lengthy terms and conditions. It needs to be broken out, explained and then explicitly consented to.

No, I don't remember this being offered when I've logged onto free Wi-Fi either. You normally just get the offer of free Wi-Fi on the understanding the log-in page will offer you a bunch of ads for nearby businesses.

I don't suspect many people realise their device ID is being stored, or at least their email address, as are their travelling patterns. That means they are being placed in a category of consumer, judging by when they use a train station, and could even follow them around during their day.

So where does this leave us? Well, I'm pretty sure there will be a lot less people opting for rail station and airport Wi-Fi, even if it is free.

Most people understand the value exchange, but personally, I've never trusted public Wi-Fi, and I suspect many more will now be following suit. When 4G is everywhere, or at the very worst 3G, why take the risk?

It leaves the telecoms providers sitting pretty on a whole mountain of data that they were legally allowed to process because they are, after all, telecom providers who need to know where each of their subscribers is. 

The murky world of finding out location data via third parties, however, will be taking a hit. Sure, there will still be navigation and weather apps to gather information on where people are -- but that generic sign-in page to free Wi-Fi is going to take a hit, and I doubt if anyone will be too bothered. The data-processing permissions were never particularly clear, and the ads were always for a station cafe you were standing outside anyway.

So the scores on the doors after this latest episode are: murky location data world nil, telecoms and app providers, one.

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