The way the economy is going, people are doing some pretty odd things to get by. There's even a guy living exclusively off coupons for a year for a shot at $100,000.
That strange marketing contest is tied to Groupon, a social network marketing site that offers one local deal daily if enough people commit to buying. But now there's an even more localized social networing "big idea": if you let marketers track where you are, they'll give you coupons. While other social networks merely strip you of your privacy, these services are at least willing to pay you for it.
It seems everyone now wants to be in the location business. App developers for smart phones are using the GPS technology in those phones to track their users, and present information (sales offers, coupons, and the names of others who are nearby) based on where they are. It's like those radio collars that naturalists put on animals when they want to track them—except you're willingly putting it on.
I've talked before about the privacy risks of location information posed by services like Foursquare and Twitter. Facebook is preparing to launch its own location-based service, which will add a whole new dimension of privacy concerns, judging by Facebook's privacy track-record.
But location-based services are springing up that are offering to essentially pay you for letting them track you—often without you having to "check in" some place. Just by having their application running on your cell phone, they'll pop up offers and rewards, and share your location and other information with the retailers whose stores you're wandering through.
On the surface, these apps are just another spin on the customer loyalty card—exchange a little personal information, and let the merchant track your purchases, and you get a discount. But
One example of this "passive check-in" capability is Shopkick, a location-based game that gives you "kickbucks" for checking in at places, and even gives you rewards without a checkin just for walking into the locations of some retailers. Scan items with your smart phone's camera, and get more reward points, which are redeemable for gift cards and other prizes.
The downside, as the New York Times reports, is that it will take a lot of visits, scans, and such to get much of a bargain out of Shopkick:
The points are redeemable for gift cards at the retailers, along with music downloads or credits toward Facebook games. It takes a lot of points, however, to earn even a $5 gift card, although the stores say they may adjust the point system to make points more valuable.
Of course, the reason that you get these deals is that Shopkick identifies you, and when you entered what store and for how long, to the retailer. Each time you "check in" at a store, or scan an item you're interested in, you help the retailer build a dossier on your shopping habits and interests. And for that, you may eventually get $5 off a pair of American Eagle jeans.
Here's a video from Shopkick promoting the service:
This "passive check-in" location tracking technology is being heralded by some as the next wave. It's called "geosocial marketing". And clearly, it's targeted at a generation that's already comfortable with tweeting or checking in about just about anything they're doing at the moment.
The question is whether the demographic that still has the most money to spend—us—is willing to trade away that kind of information. What's your asking price for exact information about when you entered Macy's? Mine's a little higher than a song download.