An Introduction to Location Based Services

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Location Based Services can be a huge benefit to employers

Going on a business trip or traveling to a foreign city used to mean that you would arrive at the remote destination and be at the mercy of a taxi driver, or a hotel concierge, on finding a place to dine. You couldn’t be sure of the quality of the food, again relying only on the advice of a single person. Today, you can quickly take out your cell phone, bring up an app like Urban Spoon, and find all restaurants in your given area, even specifying parameters, like “Free Wi-Fi”, in your search. You can then choose from a few restaurants, and settle on one that was reviewed favorably by others. Having a device that can share your location with applications has changed the way we approach everyday situations in today’s world. This specific technology is known as Location Based Services (LBS).

A Location Based Service is defined as an information, entertainment or commercial service which makes use of the geographic position of a person, usually obtained by a mobile device. With the rise in use of smartphones, cellphones and tablets, the exact location of a person is more readily available. This allows for new services to be built that specifically target people in a particular location.

The location piece of LBS is achieved by handheld devices that can pinpoint the whereabouts of the person using the phone. This can be done by GPS, assisted GPS, GSM localization, cell tower triangulation or IP tracking. These vary in precision, but they all offer, at a minimum, the general location of the person in question.

Location Based Services have many possible uses, as seen in the above example of finding a restaurant. At the personal level:

  • Help find social events going on in a given city
  • Help find a specific service, like an ATM or a bank
  • Provide turn by turn navigation
  • Help locate friends, or other people with common interests
  • Alerts and notifications for events such as traffic jams, road closings, etc.
  • Services based on proximity, such as EZPass

At a business/corporate level:

  • Ability to send targeted ads to people in an area
  • Ability to track resources (e.g., make sure an employee is on a particular route)
  • Ability to distribute resources (e.g., make sure taxis in a location are spread efficiently)

At a government / law enforcement level:

  • Locate missing person, property
  • Send notifications, emergency messages, to people in a certain area

The drawback of this technology is loss of personal privacy. Your location, and sometimes identity, can be tracked at any given moment throughout the day. A major smartphone manufacturer was recently found to have been storing a history of users’ locations on their devices for up to a year. While it is unclear what this information could be used for, the fact it was retained is itself alarming. Companies that provide these Location Based Services should warn the customers up front that their location information will be gathered and how that information will be used.

As Location Based Services continue to transform and grow, you, as a consumer or business owner, need to keep pace with the changes. Weighing the positives of LBS, such as ability to reach a targeted audience, or the ability to obtain information about your surroundings quickly, versus the negatives of LBS, such as privacy concerns or an overload of information, will help you come to a decision regarding this technology. The decision will not be “if” you are going to use LBS in your everyday life, but more “how” and “how much” you will use it.