It's Time to Stop LAMB (Location Based SPAM) Before It Even Exists
We all suffer from SPAM, the unwanted and unsolicited commercial bulk emails that are the reason we have Junk Mail filters and folders in our email clients and servers. A quick glance at the Junk folder for my personal email account shows over 300 of these since the beginning of February alone. If you use some form of instant messenger, be it MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, AOL or any of the others on the market, you've probably come across SPIM, Instant Messaging SPAM. Then there's also mobile phone SPAM via text messages, comment SPAM, the list goes on and on.
We're poised to start seeing a new form of SPAM raise its ugly head. Let's call it LAMB for now, Location Based Advertising SPAM.
As Ed Parsons pointed out on his blog yesterday, Apple are banning location based advertising in apps. "If you build your application with features based on a user’s location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user’s location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store."
This is a good first step in locking down potential abuses of a technology before it has a chance to get out of control. The reason we have SPAM and all the other variants in the first place is that the underlying technologies were designed in an open manner with no control mechanisms in place to thwart unsolicited and unwanted messages and content. But we need to go further than this.
The first time you use a location aware app on an iPhone, it asks your permission in nice, unthreatening language; it "would like to use your current location". What this actually means is that it wants to use, and continue to use, your precise location to the finest level of granularity that the A-GPS system on the phone is able to deliver at the time it's being requested.
There's no way of halting this process temporarily, of being your own source of truth for your location (AKA lying about your location) or of controlling this on a per application basis. You can only reset asking this permission for all apps and for the entire phone via the Settings app. Although some well behaved apps such as TweetDeck do allow you to disable use of location information altogether as as well as on a per Tweet basis.
What we really need is to see is a way to set location granularity, including no location information at all, on a per app basis in much the same way as Fire Eagle currently does. And for all apps on all location aware platforms, not just Apple's and the iPhone's.
Some may argue that requiring such a degree of choice and intervention by the user may raise the barrier to entry to such a degree that an app doesn't reach such a large audience. It's a valid argument but as part of the location industry, I believe that we need to find the middle ground between irking the user once per app and letting LAMB loose on the world which has the possibility of irking the user multiple times per hour.