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Geolocation Advertising

Geolocation advertising is a promotional tactic that typically involves computer devices allowing their location to be tracked to provide advertisers a list of people to market specific messaging.

On desktop computers, this is typically seen in search results that are modified for your computer’s identified location (based on your Internet Service Provider’s information and your approval to be tracked via your browser). When you take your mobile phone around different towns, you will see messaging filtered based on those locations, like updates to your map on restaurants or local activities, in your search results.

Potentially Unethical (Black Hat) Practices

While some are based on consent from the person to track their location, not all mobile apps allow you to stop or prohibit location tracking completely. For example, your phone is programmed to use the good (white hat) practice of sending you Amber Alerts for a local incident, so you can render aid to your community if you have the opportunity.

However, other companies may be exploiting the location tracking of some of your apps (who are selling your data to third-parties) to track where you go in order to send you email messages or text messages via the contact information on your phone and/or apps you use.


  • Going to a restaurant, paying with cash, leaving the restaurant after eating, and suddenly receiving a text message on your phone asking for feedback on how their service was that day.
  • Attending the rodeo at the Lone Star Arena and unexpectedly receiving a text message from a university asking if you’d be interested in a degree in equine sciences.

The results of geolocation advertising obviously vary. Some people will consider these texts or emails great customer service that personally targets them while others will consider it intrusive given it was without their consent. They may also uninstall the apps that gave their information away if they discover which one(s) sold their data, reducing your target audience in the geolocation.

What You Can Do

If you choose to use geolocation advertising, consider the human behavior of visiting the particular geolocation you want to trigger your messaging. Should they visit the geolocation five (5) times before getting your advertising? Would it make sense to get your specific message from that geolocation, or should you rephrase it considering the event they attended may not typically match the venue they were at (e.g. Lone Star Arena has hosted dinners and charity events with no relation to animal sciences)?

Provide consent forms to allow your audience the ability to choose to receive more communication from you or opt-out of advertising (see the CAN-SPAM Act). For example, if you know a particular group is attending an event at a location, request permission to advertise to them during or after the event.