The massive flow of data emanating from mobile phones and sent by carriers into the ad and marketing ecosystem could hit a blockade in the Supreme Court.
A case set to be heard in October deals with the ability for law enforcement authorities to obtain location data about suspects through cellphone tower records. However, some say it could have implications for location data used by advertisers and marketers to segment and target audiences for ad campaigns, as well as to gather consumer insights.
The ecosystem that’s threatened
While much of the location data used for targeting and measuring ad campaigns is derived through mobile apps, a lot of it enters the marketplace directly via mobile carriers. Firms including SAP, IBM, HP and a burgeoning field of European startups including Zeotap and Smartpipe, have partnered with carriers to transform mobile data representing precise locations traversed by people into information used for marketing.
Verizon, Sprint and AT&T have built businesses that allow advertisers to aim ads directly at their subscribers, services that spin aggregated data into marketing insights showing companies what types of people are shopping in their stores or visiting competitor locations. In fact, Verizon bought AOL and Yahoo in part to acquire the ad systems and media needed to turn its data exhaust into ad dollars.
The issue at the core of the case on the Supreme Court docket, Carpenter v. United States, is what’s called the third-party doctrine. According to the doctrine, when someone voluntarily provides information to a third party — in this situation, her mobile carrier — she has no valid expectation of privacy or Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
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