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How Location Data Solves Tough Problems

With two-thirds of the world’s population now connected by mobile devices, location data has emerged as one of the most powerful and important data sources. Location data is used to solve hard problems—from providing firefighters and emergency medical technicians key information during times of human crisis to helping us avoid bad traffic.

At the same time, data overall has hit a rough patch in our public discourse. California recently granted the state’s citizens unprecedented control of their data, while Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica troubles made headline news for several days this spring, shining an intense spotlight on digital platforms’ data-sharing practices. It’s imperative that businesses be transparent and responsible for the information they collect. We cannot violate customers’ trust and lose out on the opportunities for location data to make lives better. Businesses need to address these issues and create standards for how marketers access, use and share data.

On average, people use nine mobile apps daily that often employ location data to help them navigate their lives; we have come to expect our favorite apps and services to use location to be more relevant. What would Yelp and Lyft be like without location data? Folks don’t really want a world without location data. Let’s consider a handful of the ways that it’s having a positive impact on lives.

According to federal regulators, getting first responders to the scene of an emergency 60 seconds earlier could save as many as 10,000 lives a year. That’s why smartphone apps like Incident Aware and Active911 emerged on the marketplace a few years ago, helping first responders get to emergency callers as quickly as possible with location data.  

In 2018, Google is making particularly intriguing progress on that front. The search engine giant has been testing a system that’s getting accurate location data for first responders from 80 percent of phone calls within the first 30 seconds. Furthermore, Google is now distinguishing a given caller’s location to a 120-foot radius. When it comes to firefighters and ambulance EMTs, every second counts—so Google’s work looks to save lives.

Location data is making our highways and streets safer. Take EverDrive, which uses location data to turn safe driving into a friendly competition. The mobile app monitors driving habits, offering trip summaries and providing useful feedback for becoming a better driver. It uses a phone’s sensors to detect when the car starts and stops while measuring and ranking a driver’s performance. Users can even win a driving skills contest, including college scholarship money.

In another example, British tech player TfL provides location data to public transport apps about bike accidents and other traffic info in London, allowing daily cyclists to avoid dangerous routes like the intersection right before Blackfriars Bridge. Speaking with the Guardian, Londonite Amy Jones said, “Changing my route has potentially saved my life. I breathe in less pollution from main roads, and I’m less at risk from crashing, thanks to the data provided by TfL.”


Most people have gotten truly sick either at work, while out trying to have a good time or on a road trip. In these situations, you cannot wait for a doctor’s appointment, but the emergency room normally doesn’t seem necessary. So you turn to Google Maps app to figure out where the nearest urgent care provider is located, and it finds the information within seconds.

Staying on the topic of travel, do consumers really want to open their Yelp or TripAdvisor apps and have them not know where they are? Location data allows those apps to lead us to enjoyable local experiences while newly visiting cities and neighborhoods.

Fitness apps track workout warriors’ activities to help them stay lean. We’ve all seen the joggers with the phone patched to their arm, calculating their distance traveled based on location data.

Some people may not appreciate data—which reveals, say, their jogging routine—existing in a marketing cloud. Yet, there are plenty of ways to use location on these apps, such as MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, while protecting your privacy. In most cases, consumers simply need to go into settings and hit the right buttons to keep their location data in the app rather than shared elsewhere. Moving forward, I believe that mobile app marketers should consider systems that allow them to store location data on-device and never sent to a third-party server.

Not everyone needs Lyft, Uber and public transportation apps to make life easier. But a lot of folks really do. For instance, mobile apps such as NextBus, Transit and OneBusAway help citizens of major U.S. metro areas route their public bus trips, saving users’ time by leaning on their location data to do things like find nearby stops and offer walking directions.

For Lyft and Uber, consider the septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians who want to go to the senior citizen center but are afraid to cross busy, four-lane streets. Or citizens who cannot get a driver’s licenses but like to go to the movies or the mall. Heck, think of all the weekend partiers who are going to the bar but certainly should not be driving home. They are all fine sharing their location because the trade-off is a big win-win.


In summary, location data saves lives, prevents accidents, promotes healthy lifestyles and gets people from one place to the next. Down the road, location data will even propel self-driving cars into better safety as such vehicles get smarter and more precise in where they are at.

Location data is currently part of our daily rituals, and it’s part of our exciting futures. Tech players have to honor that potential by being transparent and responsible about the information we collect. With great data comes great responsibility, indeed.

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