Urban Airship brings ultra-fine detail to location-based push marketing, promises to keep data secure

By Kathleen De Vere Comment

Urban Airship, the Portland, Oregon-based mobile push messaging provider is looking to dramatically improve how location-based advertising works with its newly unveiled Location Messaging Service.

Built from the technology Urban Airship picked up when it acquired location platform SimpleGeo for $3.5 million in stock last year, the product promises to deliver ultra-precise advertising that benefits both consumers and brands.

“We predicted that location and push together would be hot data,” says Urban Airship CMO Brent Hieggelke. “But surveys show that people under-check-in. it makes the consumers do the work. Geo fences can be shock collars, you walk in and they buzz, and they don’t give you real value. We think it’s off-putting to consumers.”

Urban Airship’s Location Messaging Service uses a database of more than 2.5 million geofences that range from broad — like the entire Eastern time zone, to hyper specific regions like neighborhoods or even single buildings. This, says Hieggelke, allows Urban Airship to provide what he calls thoughtful location-based advertising that gives consumers information they actually want.

For example, by using Location Based Messaging, it’s possible for a sports team to send an offer for discounted, last-second tickets to everyone who has opted into receiving score updates (signifying a high level of interest), and are currently in the city where the team is playing, but aren’t actually inside the stadium (implying they’ve already bought tickets). In the real world, a Las Vegas casino that has been beta testing the service is using it to build loyalty with its VIP customers. When one of the casino’s shows has empty seats, it sends out a message targeting VIPs who have been in Las Vegas within the last hour, letting them know they are invited to see the show for free.

Of course, the technology doesn’t work unless the customer being targeted has also opted into sharing both their current location information and location history with an app — a level of tracking that could spook many people. Our readers may remember Apple made headlines in 2011 when it became common knowledge that it had been keeping detailed records of iPhone and iPad location data since 2010.

According to Hieggelke, Apple’s approach was flawed because users weren’t aware their devices were tracking their locations. Urban Airship’s Location Messaging technology requires users to opt-in to sharing their location information with apps using the service.

“I think people will choose carefully based on what they hear in the market and their personal opinion if which apps deliver an experience they want by sharing a location,” he says. “Do I think you’re going to let 100 apps have your location information? No, not at all. But there may be 10 apps there from brands you trust, that you would be okay to track your location because they’re serving you beneficial content.”

In order to ensure anonymity, its Urban Airship, and not the apps and developers that use the company’s Location Messaging Service, storing the location data needed to make the service work. According to Hieggelke, his company isn’t using UDID or any other method of tracking that can be connected to a customer’s identity, and there is no way to connect location data taken from multiple apps, since each app using the service assigns user IDs unique to the app.