WaveMarket’s Joel Grossman Addresses Privacy and Location-based Advertising

By Joe Francica

Worried about the privacy of location-based advertising? What are some of the options for those who don't mind the advertisements, but only want what's of interest to them and only want to be identified at an aggregate geographic level? Editor in Chief Joe Francica poses these questions and more to Joel Grossman, vice president of marketing for WaveMarket. The company recently announced a partnership with Millennial Media which is believed to be an important step in protecting the privacy of consumers.

Joe Francica (JF): You have hailed this partnership with Millennial Media as an important step in protecting the privacy of consumers. How has the adoption of location-based advertising been hindered by the lack of adequate security controls available to the advertising network buyer?

Joel Grossman (JG):
Location-based advertising has the potential to be incredibly USEFUL to end users, therefore being valuable to advertisers. Google, for example, was built on the delivery of USEFUL and TARGETED advertisements to end users. The challenge with LBS advertising is that many mobile advertisers have tried to access a user's location in a sneaky, surreptitious way that violates the end user's privacy rights and, therefore, trust. Reputable advertisers and publishers do not want to be associated with those types of business practices - it's not the kind of relationship they want to build with end users.

In contrast, by using Veriplace, Millennial Media has instead opted to be upfront, open and honest with the end user to facilitate a trustworthy relationship between the end user and the advertiser. Millennial Media uses Veriplace to earn a user's trust by asking for permission to access her location in order to deliver a useful advertisement (like directions to the coffee shop offering the $1 discount). Because of the upfront, honest and transparent tools that Veriplace offers, Millennial Media has been approached by swarms of advertisers and publishers who recognize the value of the trustworthy relationship with the end user that Veriplace enables. And because the end user can revoke permission to be located at any time with Veriplace, Millennial Media (and all of our Veriplace application partners) must work hard to maintain the trust of the end user, or the end user will revoke that permission.

JF: You note that that solution is scalable. Can you define what you mean? Is this a reference to the number of ads delivered or consumers served or both?

Veriplace scalability refers not only to the robustness of our carrier-grade systems (we run the family locator solutions for nearly a dozen carriers globally, including multiple Tier 1 carriers in the U.S.), but also the aggregation nature of our platform - developers write to a single API and are able to locate phones across multiple platforms, multiple location technologies and multiple types of devices. It's a "write once" solution and that's immensely scalable for developer partners. For Millennial Media, this means that they can deliver ads across all sorts of devices and serve location-aware solutions to tens of millions of customers all by accessing a single Veriplace API. Because that API is Web-services-based, it also means it's suitable for WAP applications, SMS applications, Web apps, mobile apps, even Facebook widgets. That's what we mean by "scalable."

JF: You also note that the solution provides "location aggregation." Please explain further what is meant by this feature.

Using Veriplace, a developer can locate users (always with end user permission) across multiple carriers, multiple types of devices, multiple platforms and with multiple location technologies, all by building on a single API. It also means that users on one mobile carrier can grant permission to be located by users on another mobile carrier. Veriplace aggregates location data, along with privacy and security, across multiple technologies, greatly simplifying scalable application development and enabling cross-carrier scenarios never before possible. As an aggregator, we provide a single solution (for developers and end users) across multiple platforms and handle all of the interconnectivity challenges with patent-pending technology.

JF: The press release states that WaveMarket's solution has "street corner" accuracy. Does the consumer have the ability to control the geographic level of accuracy? For example, can the consumer opt in for only "ZIP Code" or "city" level location identification if he does not want to be located to "street corner" level?

Absolutely. Veriplace provides end users with a variety of privacy controls that put the end user in charge of his own location information. On a per application basis, the end user can decide to share or not share location information, to share it only on certain days of the week or at certain hours of the day, or even to obscure location information (so even though Veriplace may be able to locate a user with "street corner" accuracy, the end user could opt to only allow a specific application to access the ZIP Code or city-level location data). These settings are easy to configure from the Web or mobile phone and are supplemented by other Veriplace trust features like optional notifications whenever the user is located and a complete "history" of all location requests, so the end user can always see who has been locating him.

JF: Likewise, can you contractually guarantee the ad buyer to deliver mobile ads to a specific geographic level?

Veriplace empowers the end user with rich controls so that she is in charge of how her location data is shared. We have a wide variety of application development partners who are building on Veriplace and providing cool solutions that work with the level of access that the end user grants them. Millennial Media has enabled some very powerful and useful communication opportunities for their advertisers within that framework. I am not privy to the details of their contracts with their advertising partners.

JF: What are the criteria for delivering "contextually relevant" ads? Is it only location-based or are other factors like the demographics of the mobile consumer considered? And, at what point might the psychographic characteristics of the consumer be captured ... real-time or otherwise?

This question is better suited for the advertising provider - in this case, Millennial Media. Veriplace provides privacy-protected location access for all of our development partners to enable them to build great location-aware applications of all types while providing the end user with privacy and security tools to protect his location data.

JF: You state that the consumer can revoke the option to reveal his location. Again, can he do this by geographic level or is this simply an "on-off switch" that he invokes?

Veriplace provides the end user with rich privacy controls, including the ability to obscure his location to neighborhood or city-level, or only allow location to be shared during certain hours of the day or certain days of the week. These are core Veriplace features that empower the user for all of our partner applications, including this mobile advertising example. Furthermore, in addition to these granular controls, users can always view a complete history of every application that has requested their location and opt to be notified in real-time of every location attempt.

JF: Location-based advertising has certainly been a few years in the making. What additional controls or features are you building into Veriplace to facility greater adoption?

We really look to enable mass adoption in three ways:
  1. TRUST. We continue to add privacy and security features for end users so that they know that they can trust any application, including location-aware advertising solutions that are protected by the Veriplace platform. In addition to the controls, notifications and history auditing visible to the end user in Veriplace, the Veriplace platform also includes patent-pending technologies like our "Location Agents," which constantly test the security and privacy policies of our developers' systems to ensure proper security and privacy policies remain in full force even after an application is certified for commercial launch. If a Location Agent detects a potential weakness in the security or privacy of our application partners, we can immediately shut down access to all location data for that application partner, until its systems are upgraded. It's our version of tough love.
  2. COST. Veriplace supports a variety of location technologies across both mass market feature phones and smart phones including A-GPS, cell tower location, triangulation and other location technologies through a number of partnerships currently in development. Veriplace does the heavy lifting of connecting into all of these different systems and provides developers with a simple unified API. Because Veriplace provides this kind of breadth in our solution (often automatically selecting the optimal technology for a particular location request), we can drive down cost by selecting the most efficient location technology for a given request and by leveraging the volume of requests being processed by Veriplace. We have hit a price point that is compelling for location-aware advertising today and we continue to create efficiencies that we hope will drive down the cost of location data for our developer partners over time.
  3. TECHNOLOGY. Veriplace has a number of patent-pending technologies to improve the end user experience with location. Using these technologies, Veriplace can return location information more quickly, determine in real-time the best technology to use to access location data, and streamline the user interface components to facilitate the granting or revoking of permission to access location with minimal interference. Never underestimate the importance of powerful technologies that enable compelling user experiences...

We believe that continued investment in the Veriplace platform to gain the trust of end users, lower the cost to our developer partners, and improve the user experience through innovative patent-pending technology will drive mass adoption of all location-aware solutions, including location-aware advertising.

Published Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Written by Joe Francica

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