Voice: Big Brother as Your BFF

While location-based mobile advertising has pundits debating privacy issues, Americans are quietly, but quickly, embracing it

One of the things that most surprises me when talking to journalists about mobile and advertising is that the conversation hasn’t changed much since I founded Phonevalley in 2001. It always comes down to advertising on phones—especially the kind that uses device location to target some form of marketing—is a scary invasion of privacy.

I, for one, don’t think sharing location in exchange for a benefit like finding my friends or getting a discount is creepy or intrusive. Foursquare is now at 25 million users, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of location-based marketing. Huge numbers of people in the U.S. have been quietly, but quickly, enabling their smartphones so marketers can find them. That group will only get bigger through the continuing integration of GPS-enabled apps.

We’re entering a true creative renaissance fueled by mobile and location data. To satisfy my journalist friends, I will acknowledge that yes, it’s Big Brother time. But now, rather than spying on you, he’s become your BFF. From a business perspective, developers are doing things that truly make use of the significant and distinct opportunity of mobile. Forget about Temple Run and Words With Friends; let’s celebrate the mass-market adoption of location awareness and a new generation of apps that millions of people can’t do without.

For example, take Weather. Here’s the case of a medium that makes most sense where you are or where you are planning to be. You type in your ZIP code—explicitly sharing your current or future location—and you get just what you want whenever and wherever.

Yelp’s an even better example. I not only get reviews for places I want to go, but I can also walk out on a street and use the augmented reality function to overlay the review stars onto the world around me. The best coffee? Let’s find out through the lens of my phone.

Or take Fandango. This app is putting spontaneity back into moviegoing. I’m old enough to remember having to go to a newsstand post brunch to figure out what was playing where—or calling the dumb number and having to listen to the guy with the ironic voice work his way through the entire listings in order to find what I wanted to see.

The list goes on and on. There’s My City Way, which eliminates the need for separate apps for finding restaurants, movies, deals, buses and even public bathrooms. It all comes together in this one app tailored for specific cities. Similarly, there are real estate apps like Zillow and Trulia. It doesn’t get more local than that. Yes, it is true that real estate is a sport to New Yorkers, and these apps satisfy their inner need to know—and perhaps more politely not ask—what people paid for their apartments.

What’s more local than craigslist, the site that killed newspaper revenue and changed forever the concept of classifieds? Craigslist used to actually annoy me whenever I had to look through a forest of links to click to my city. Now just turn on location, and I can find the deals and services that make sense to me.

And, of course, there’s the social/local/mobile behemoth Facebook. A lot of what we post socially has location relevance, but the good thing here is that I have a choice. Facebook politely asks me whether I want to share my location or where the photos I post were taken.

Lastly, it would be hard to argue against sharing your information with Apple’s Find My iPhone app. It’s the worst scenario of all: you’ve lost your phone, which for a growing number of people means losing your calendar, music, contacts, emails, photos—not to mention all those apps you thoughtfully accumulated and lovingly arranged. (Yes, they live in the Cloud, but you don’t want the hassle of downloading them again.) The “Big Brother” app from those scary people at Apple pings that lost phone with a text message about a reward for its return—an insurance policy for your most favored device, based on location.

Still think this location stuff is going nowhere? It is hard to describe just how behavior changing these apps can be. Try at least two for a month and then tell me what your creep factor is. My bet is that, like me, you may find that Big Brother is now a very welcome friend at Starbucks, on your commute, when you shop and at home.

As in real estate, location is everything.

Alexandre Mars is CEO of Phonevalley and head of mobile at Publicis Groupe.