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Pocket GPS at CTIA Wireless 2009 | WaveMarket CEO Interview - Future Proof Privacy?

tasso-wavemarket-lbsTasso Roumeliotis, CEO of WaveMarket, had a diverse career before founding his company. He was involved in one of the largest film distribution businesses, several music and sports companies and Rolling Stones concert promotions. Tasso is the kind of man that appears to have his finger on the "cool button".

WaveMarket is currently showcasing its services at CTIA Wireless 2009, Las Vegas where it has also unveiled a location aware advertising initiative with Millennial Media, the largest mobile advertising network in the US.

The initiative will develop opt-in mobile ad location based services for brands with the capability to locate a particular user where they are with "street corner" accuracy.

Continuing our series of industry interviews that we are running alongside PocketGPSWorld.com's visit to CTIA, we asked Tasso what he felt the future held not only for WaveMarket, but also for GPS and location based services (LBS) as a whole.

tasso-wavemarket-lbs Q: What can you tell me about your company please?
A: WaveMarket is an industry leader in mobile location privacy and security, best known for the nearly dozen commercial Family Finder deployments that we’ve launched with carrier partners to offer peace-of-mind to millions of people across North America. These services, branded Sprint Family Locator, Alltel Family Finder, Bell Mobility Seek and Find, etc, allow parents to locate their children from the web or their mobile phones.

More recently, we have built upon this success with the launch of Veriplace™, a location aggregation platform that allows 3rd party developers to access a mobile user’s location via a simple web-services API while giving end-users complete control of who can access their location. Veriplace protects end users. It allows carriers to monetize their location infrastructure, and it opens up a new world of possibilities to application developers of all types—not just downloadable mobile applications, but WAP (mobile web), SMS, even Facebook widget developers.

Veriplace is a very mature security and privacy system that’s nearly a decade in the making—it’s the privacy and security infrastructure that powers WaveMarket’s nearly-dozen commercial Family Locator deployments.

Q: What is WaveMarket's business model?
A: WaveMarket has two primary business models. For our Family Finder services (generally white-labeled by the carrier), we work on a revenue-share basis. The Carrier sells the service to end-users and we share in the revenue.

For Veriplace, our Location Aggregation platform, we work directly with our developer partners and charge them for location data (which we’ve purchased from the carriers), which we never release to the developer without the end-user’s permission. The developer is free to use the business model that best suits them for their particular application.

Q: Who do you sell your products to?
A: We market our products in collaboration with our carrier partners.

Q: With user privacy in mind, how do you see advertising developing alongside LBS?
A: The privacy of user’s location data is simply non-negotiable. Some mobile advertisers are sneaky—they go about getting user info however they can without the user ever knowing or opting in. These people will never be Veriplace partners. All Veriplace users can rest assured that we will NEVER share their location information without an explicit opt-in. But this doesn’t mean that mobile advertising will suffer—quite the contrary.

I believe that there are creative and value-added ways for smart, open, and trustworthy advertising companies to earn the user’s trust and convince users to share their location. As a user, I’d much rather receive a location-aware ad that offered me a discount for a store I am walking into instead of an irrelevant ad that is just annoying noise. Indeed, Veriplace has mobile advertising partners that are doing just that—asking the user permission to access their location, and providing the users with great offerings in return. And if the user decides that they are not delivering on the promise, the user can use Veriplace to instantly revoke location access for that partner.

Q: What changes do you think you'll see for mobile location services in the future?
A: In the near term, I see a few obvious changes: first, apps will stop misbehaving, running amok with users’ personal location data. Users just won’t tolerate any more, especially now that they have tools to prevent it. Users will demand control of their location data. Secondly, new technologies will allow ALL types of applications to use location—not just downloadable applications.

You’ll see SMS-based applications, mobile web applications, Facebook widgets, web apps, IVR apps, etc, all use location in exciting ways that enables really cool and useful scenarios and business opportunities. The last real change is that we’ll move from “location based services” to services that have a location component.

That is, even apps and services that exist today will get cooler, more useful, more targeted, more user friendly because they’ll add location awareness as a feature. You’ll see infinitely more diverse uses of location than you see today.

Q: How does WaveMarket address the public's privacy concerns surrounding LBS?
A: Protecting a user’s right to control their own location data is Veriplace’s primary goal. Veriplace protects a user’s privacy. That’s what it does. We never release a user’s location data to anyone or any application without the user’s explicit permission. Never. Never ever.

At any time, the user can log into Veriplace and see a full audit of every single instance that their location was shared with an application by Veriplace. They can revoke location permission from any app or any person at any time. The user can request real-time notification any time she is located.

Furthermore, we require all of our application developer partners adhere to our Privacy Policy and post on Veriplace, in plain English (non-legalese), how they use location. Users can report applications who misbehave and we investigate that application and can instantly block that application from requesting any user’s location if they are in violation of that trust. We have patent-pending technology that regularly tests our partner’s systems for security and to ensure they are protecting any personal data that they have. That’s how we feel about privacy. There is no gray area here.

Q: Many markets were disrupted by the appearance of the Web, do you believe that LBS will have the same effect?
A: We really view LBS as an enhancer more than a disrupter. That is, the Web disrupted old-style businesses that didn’t understand the new model. It changed the way businesses worked.

A bookstore that had to pay rent, staff associates, and had limited shelf space didn’t know how to complete with a business on the web that had infinite shelf space… LBS is different. Today, there are millions of scenarios where applications have to “fake” location awareness; maybe they ask the user where he is, or guess based on the user’s phone number (local search, social networking, taxi requests, credit card fraud detection, etc).

Those scenarios all get better with LBS. It increases their value, reduces the friction. I don’t really see this as "disrupting" but, like the Web, LBS will be a great enabler.


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