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EU consumer groups accuse Google of violating GDPR with location history

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Location-tracking illustration from Norwegian consumer advocacy organization, Forbrukerrådet.

Characterizing smartphone location awareness as a form of “spying,” consumer groups in seven European countries are filing complaints with their respective data protection regulators against Google. The groups are all part of the BEUC network.

What happened. The groups contend that Google has violated the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in terms of how it captures and uses smartphone location data. Each regulator is empowered to impose significant fines should the complaints be found meritorious. At the center of the complaints is the allegation that Google has not fully disclosed how it collects and uses location data and users have not freely consented to its use.

The BEUC’s press release says Google “uses various tricks and practices to ensure users have [location] features enabled and does not give them straightforward information about what this effectively entails. These unfair practices leave consumers in the dark about the use of their personal data. Additionally they do not give consumers a real choice other than providing their location data, which is then used by the company for a wide range of purposes including targeted advertising. These practices are not compliant with the GDPR.”

The BEUC’s discussion implies deliberate deception on Google’s part, which I think is unwarranted. However, Google has generally not done a good job of educating people about how it captures and uses location, which fuels this suspicion.

BEUC is an umbrella group representing 43 independent consumer organizations

Similar to U.S. controversy. The claims at the center of the EU consumer complaints are identical to those raised not long ago in an AP story in which Google was similarly accused of tracking user location even when location history was turned off, through “Web & App Activity.”

Location is one of the key features of the smartphone, allowing users’ experiences to be tailored based on where they are and what they appear to be doing. It’s also used for ad targeting and offline attribution. But location data can be abused if privacy protections are not in place. The BEUC is pointing out hypothetical abuses, but that doesn’t mean such data isn’t already being used for questionable purposes. China, for example, is building a database of all its citizens to track and monitor them, demonstrating the malevolent applications of technologies such as smartphone location and facial recognition.

Earlier this month, in a similar case involving user location, the French data protection authority said that mobile advertising company Vectaury had violated GDPR consent rules by collecting location data in the background through SDKs and ad exchanges. The French regulator gave the company three months to change its consent practices to come into compliance with GDPR.

What’s at stake for marketers. Location data is extremely valuable to the ecosystem and stricter privacy rules, which now exist in Europe and soon will exist in the U.S., threaten the free flow of that data. There’s no way around more explicit disclosures and (in Europe) consent for secondary uses of location. Google will almost certainly be compelled to make changes to its policies and language.

More importantly, the industry in the U.S. needs to educate consumers about location data, how it’s used and assure them that personal information is safeguarded. If companies reliant on location data — which now includes retailers, large agencies and an increasing number of CPG brands — fail to do this there will be a significant consumer (and regulatory) backlash that will further undermine already fraying trust in large internet companies.

The post EU consumer groups accuse Google of violating GDPR with location history appeared first on Marketing Land.

Foldable screens: No big deal for marketers or potential game changer?

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Recently, Google announced that its Android OS will natively support foldable screens on smartphones. Coupled with Samsung’s promise of a Galaxy foldable smartphone, it appears that this form factor — promised by consumer tech companies since the end of the last century — may soon emerge.

What kind of opportunities — and challenges– would this technology represent for marketing?

A big deal. Foldables could potentially come in a variety of form factors, ranging from a single screen that covers either the two outside or the two inside surfaces of a flip phone, to a small screen that fits into a pocket and unfolds like a map into a larger display. Eventually, almost any kind of malleable screen may be possible.

While some observers speculate that truly thin and flexible screens — as bendable as paper — are years off, the fact is that marketers don’t yet know how fast the technology will take hold or evolve.

In any case, several experts that I contacted say a foldable screen– in its various possible incarnations — is a big deal.

‘A complete reimagining.’ Mobile device buyers “are eager to see something dramatically different,” customer experience platform Sitecore CTO Ryan Donovan told me via email. Foldable screens, he said, “open the door to a complete reimagining” of how information is sent and consumed, “more radical” that the smartwatch.

That means, of course, that marketers and their information, interaction and visual designers have a lot of new choices to make.

For instance, Donovan said, marketers will need to decide if there is a different set of content and a different kind of responsiveness every time a screen is folded open or close.

Should it be the same image writ larger when the screen is unfolded, or should it become two images? The device will likely know about an “unfolding” action, so should that trigger some difference in content or interactivity?

Potentially, the unfolding could turn a phone into the equivalent of a tablet. How does that transformation from one device type to another change the content and the interactivity?

Completing complex actions. One approach for marketers to deal with a multi-device universe has been to create content that is independent from the presentation layer and from the screen size, so the same material can be rendered for a mobile device, a tablet or a refrigerator screen. Some marketers might choose that route, and the foldable screen — with all its permutations — could become just another set of destinations.

But a foldable screen also offers several unique attributes, including folding and unfolding actions, and the ability for one device to become a much larger or smaller one.

Derek Davis, a web developer for Sozoe Creative, emailed me that customers on foldable mobile screens will “be able to more easily complete complex actions like purchases or feedback forms on a larger form factor.” This could mean that the lower rate of sale conversions on smaller mobile screens, compared to desktops, could become a thing of the past.

Intent indicators. Sal Visca, CTO of e-commerce platform Elastic Path, pointed out that “the fact of unfolding [a screen] is an extremely strong indication of the user’s level of interest and engagement with the content,” meaning that unfolding or folding could become key events for interactivity and analysis, possibly on the level of a click. Unfolding certainly means the users want to read more content or in a larger format, but Visca notes that it could also mean the user is ready to fill out forms, make a purchase or otherwise engage with the content.

He also predicted that content flow charts will need to be redefined, so they can accommodate the progression of additional or higher resolution content when a screen is unfolded or its shape otherwise changed. And unfolding the screen may represent some real-world analogous action, like opening a wallet.

Convex, concave shapes. Changeable screens may also offer radical new form factors for marketers. Litha Ramirez, Director of Experience Strategy and Design Group at digital transformation agency SPR, told me “bendability introduces new shapes” that can incorporate a level of depth, such as convex or concave shapes, or even a cylinder. Foldable screens are “on the way to bendable screens,” she said, an evolution that might even lead to screens molded to a specific shape, like a character’s face.

A bending action on the screen could also “flip pages in a [virtual] book,” she envisioned, possibly combined with haptic feedback so users “feel” the page turns or other on-screen activity. A cylindrical screen might allow a marketer to turn a display into, say, a Coke can.

The potential impact, Ramirez said, is “huge,” since bendable/foldable screens could make any surface into any kind of changeable shape.

Hoping it’s not the Segway. In fact, if even a portion of the above predictions come true, malleable screens could turn the entire category of mobile into something different.

Currently, mobile marketing to pocket devices must account for their transportability, wirelessness and their small screen size.

If the latter factor is removed, then the category changes. In addition to possibly leading to more sales, such devices could be used more frequently for productivity tasks like word processing or sales presentations.

But, Ramirez said, let’s hope that malleable screens “don’t go the way of the Segway.”

As ingenious as that single-person motorized scooter is, she noted, its biggest issue has been that it is a solution without a clear problem, and the benefit hasn’t been enough for most people to warrant the adoption and the cost.

While bendable/foldable screens represent terrific opportunities for marketers, the pending question is: Are the benefits worth enough — for most people — to warrant the adoption, learning curve and cost?

This story first appeared on MarTech Today. For more on marketing technology, click here.

The post Foldable screens: No big deal for marketers or potential game changer? appeared first on Marketing Land.

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