Mobile phone tracking garnered extensive media attention this past week when the Chinese government announced it would monitor the locations of residents in Beijing in order to alleviate traffic congestion.[i] The announcement generated condemnation from privacy groups and reignited concerns among Internet and mobile users on the safety of their personal information.
In much less publicized announcements, both AT&T and Loopt, a location-based application company, unveiled technologies that will allow businesses to send location-specific offers directly to consumers’ phones.[ii] As CNN explains, Loopt’s Reward Alerts application will send participating smartphone users notifications that a deal is immediately available in their area. AT&T customers will be able to opt in to receiving location-based deals by text message and will either be directed to a mobile website where they can redeem the deal or be told to go to a local establishment.
As traditional forms of advertising continue to decline in influence, location-based marketing offers exciting opportunities for businesses, and subsequently politicians, as we will explain in a minute. Expansion is inevitable, with only four percent of online adults using “geosocial” sites according to a Pew Research study from December 2010.[iii] This number will quickly escalate as more consumer use smartphones and tablets, such as the iPad. Foursquare, the leader in location-based subscribers, has more than seven million users, up from two million in July 2010, when we first discussed location-based applications in the article “Mapping Congress.”[iv]
Politically, particularly when it comes to campaigning, location-based applications are a valuable tool for organizing canvassing efforts and alerting supporters of upcoming events. In addition, by creating a mobile application that constituents can download, campaigns have an additional tool to collect phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other contact information from potential voters. On Election Day, campaigns can send alerts to supporters reminding them to vote and pointing them toward their polling location.
Location-based applications have more than tripled their subscriber numbers in the past eights months. Considering the exponential increases other social media tools experienced in their infancy, coupled with extraordinary sales numbers for smartphones and tablets, it only makes sense that location-based application usage will continue to surge leading into 2012. Just as businesses and communications service providers are launching mobile advertising and tracking initiatives, incumbents and potential challengers will need to leverage new technological capabilities to maximize campaign and canvassing efforts during election season.