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Marketing Gone Wild: One Product Helps You Stalk, One Stalks You

Aug 04, 20104 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

A story of two different marketing promotions, maps and GPS. One is cool and one stalks consumers.

Sometimes, strange stories catch my privacy watchdog eye like when consumer products can stalk their buyer. Today we have a story of two different marketing promotions, one seems cool and one seems creepy, but both are high tech and include GPS. One sets off a privacy red alert by taking marketing promotions to a whole new disturbing yet innovative level.

Microsoft did a great job engaging the public to have fun with its King of Bing Maps competition. On August 20th, Microsoft will announce which Map App takes the throne. One interesting Bing app can calculate taxi fares. Microsoft continues to improve the capabilities of Bing Maps, claiming that Mapping Service Increases Performance by 80% with Global Data Center Network. Bing Maps is also now tied into the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. The open source mapping project nicknamed the “Wikipedia of maps” can be edited by anyone to include everything from street names to GPS readings.

Chris Pendleton, the Bing Maps Technical Evangelist for Microsoft Corporation, blogged, “OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the newest layer for Bing Maps and the newest Bing Map App in the gallery. The map app, dubbed simply, ‘OpenStreetMap‘ loads OSM maps as a new map style option. OpenStreetMap follows a similar concept as Wikipedia, but for maps and other geographic facts (despite its name, it’s by no means only limited to streets and roads). A community of map lovers and developers gather location data across the globe from a variety of sources such as recordings from GPS devices, from free satellite imagery or simply from knowing an area very well, for example because they live there. This information then gets uploaded to OpenStreetMap’s central database from where it can be further modified, corrected and enriched by anyone who notices missing facts or errors about the area.”

Although GPS readings can be edited in Bing’s OpenStreetMap layer, it is at this time nothing to freak out about. If a person decides to utilize it as a stalking tool, it’s certainly no more worrisome than the stalking capabilities (kidding, kinda) of Foursquare Bing Maps app. In fact, so far with their Bing Maps marketing promotions, Microsoft has not set off a loud, clanging privacy alarm. Unlike Microsoft, another company, Unilever, has taken GPS and marketing promotions to a whole new creepy yet innovative level in Brazil.

According to Adage, a company called Unilever has a two-pound box of detergent that may be capable of stalking consumers. Omo detergent has included a GPS device in its detergent box which will allow a promotion agency, Bullet, to track shoppers to their front doors.

The Is Your Detergent Stalking You article states:

Fernando Figueiredo, Bullet’s president, said the GPS device is activated when a shopper removes the detergent carton from the supermarket shelf. Fifty Omo boxes implanted with GPS devices have been scattered around Brazil, and Mr. Figueiredo has teams in 35 Brazilian cities ready to leap into action when a box is activated. The nearest team can reach the shopper’s home “within hours or days,” and if they’re really close by, “they may get to your house as soon as you do,” he said.Of course, Brazil has a high crime rate, and not everyone is going to open the door to strangers who claim to have been sent by her detergent brand to offer a free video camera. Bullet has thought of that. If the team tracks a consumer to her home but she won’t let them in, they can remotely activate a buzzer in the detergent box so that it starts beeping. And if the team takes too long to arrive, and the consumer has already opened the box to see if she’s a winner or just do laundry, she’ll find, along with the GPS device and less detergent than expected, a note explaining the promotion and a phone number to call.

A new “Try Something New” hub will feature footage that was recorded as the Bullet-Omo squad follows the GPS-enabled detergent boxes. There will also be pictures of the winners as well as a map pinpointing their homes. It will prove interesting to see if consumers feel that winning a video camera prize was worth losing their privacy.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.