A Mobile Marketing Ecosystem?

Chris Steins's picture
Will the new urban ecosystem be wireless? And if so, will corporate American own this new ecosystem?

That's the fascinating point Jeffrey Chester makes in his new article, "The Dangers of Corporate Wi-Fi", published on TheNation.com and distributed through AlterNet. Chester argues that there's no such thing as a free wireless lunch:

"Consumers and public officials should have no illusions that what is being touted as a public benefit is also designed to spur the growth of a mobile marketing ecosystem, an emerging field of electronic commerce that is expected to generate huge revenues for Google, Microsoft, AT&T and many others. Soon, wherever we wander, a ubiquitous online environment will follow us with ads and information dovetailed to our interests and our geographic location."

It rather reminds me of the scenes I envisioned while reading one of Neal Stephenson's novels (I forget which one, maybe Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon), where the lead character is driving down the street and holographic ads targeted at him, based on his profile, are displayed in front of him and call out his name.

Among many concerns raised by Chester is the use of private information by wi-fi companies, and perhaps law enforcement. There's a move afoot to allow wi-fi users to "opt-out" of providing personal information:

"As a result of this pressure, cities are now seeking a more corporate-friendly approach to provide what should really be a public utility operated for everyone's benefit. Too many local governments are embracing a model for Wi-Fi, says advocate and expert Sascha Meinrath, that creates a system more favorable to "billable moments" than one designed to truly connect communities together."

It's a fascinating argument, and not one I'd given much thought to. Right now I use a patchwork of different Wi-Fi providers to connect -- from that provided by a local university, to a law firm where I have meetings, to Starbucks when I'm on the road, and frankly, to random open Wi-Fi spots that happen to pop-up when I need to check email (but in all cases, I encrypt everything through a VPN connection). If there was a citywide Wi-Fi network, I'd use it often.

To be fair though, I'm not sure if I'd be more concerned about the city keeping track of that information or a corporate entity...

Chris Steins is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Planetizen.


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