A Drone Just Saw You Window Shopping and Wants to Offer a Deal. Exciting or Scary?


Everything's fine until it starts hovering over the porn shops.
Credit: Don McCullough / photo on flickr

A marketing firm is tracking mobile phone travel patterns with the use of drones in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. Is this more or less frightening than the authorities tracking you? It depends on how you feel about people trying to sell you things. The goal, eventually, is for this triangulated information to be used by advertisers to offer deals to potential customers based on proximity. From Venture Beat:

The capture does not involve conversations or personally identifiable information, according to director of marketing and research Smriti Kataria. It uses signal strength, cell tower triangulation, and other indicators to determine where the device is, and that information is then used to map the user's travel patterns.

"Let's say someone is walking near a coffee shop," Kataria said by way of example.

The coffee shop may want to offer in-app ads or discount coupons to people who often walk by but don't enter, as well as to frequent patrons when they are elsewhere. Adnear's client would be the coffee shop or other retailers who want to entice passersby.

Adnear apparently already gathers mobile traffic data like this but has to use people on bikes, cars, and trains and the like. Drones would get them better coverage. Kataria says no data about the user is gathered (they give each phone its own code to track it), and they don't take pictures.

Awesome or awful? I know people whine about advertising and marketing, but I'm finding targeted advertising to be quite the boon. I happen to be in the market for a new dining table and chairs, and I'm not paranoid about online cookies, so my browsers know where I've been visiting. Online targeted advertising has improved to the point that advertisers apparently know which kinds of chairs and tables I've been looking at, so it's serving up ads that aren't just for chairs and tables, but for the same style and (even colors) of chairs I had been looking at and same size and shapes of tables. Far from being disruptive or annoying, this type of advertising is helping me by showing me options and deals that I wouldn't even had known existed otherwise.

So advertising based on knowledge of where you actually are spending your time seems like it would be preferential to yet another ad vainly trying to get you to download some money-grubbing "freemium" mobile game. But people can get weird about targeted advertising. It's like they don't trust their ability to say no when an ad actually offers them something they want or need.

The Federal Aviation Administration just recently released it first round of proposed rules for private commercial drone use. Read about that here.