Apple’s iOS Blue Bar For Location Will Curb Apps’ Unnecessary Data Collection

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Brian Crook, chief product and technology officer at Verve.

The location-powered mobile marketing industry might see Apple’s upcoming iOS 11 blue bar for location as a privacy-first development. But what Cupertino really gives us this fall is a battery-life spotlight meant to drive positive consumer experiences.

Essentially, the blue bar – now in iOS 11 beta – exposes apps that use background location in ways that unnecessarily sap the device’s power. Apple will inform consumers about apps that don’t need to pull a ton of power but do. This spotlight will reshape the way users perceive problems around mobile power drain.

An additional benefit will be that bad actors in the app space – those that unnecessarily ask for deep location data – get flagged, too. A third advantage is the transparent messaging that notifies consumers about how their location data is being collected and offers them the opportunity to control how and when their permissions are used.

However, even if iOS at present commands a relatively small global market share – less than 13%, according to IDC – it’s easy to understand why some industry players will view Apple’s blue bar as a challenge.

Power Drain Vs. App Function

There are multiple ways for an app to get location data, and each presents its own balance of gains and losses. Think of location permissions as “who’s doing the work” and then evaluate the resulting impact: How does the nature of location-data use drive battery consumption?

Getting the highest-precision location data from a smartphone starts with enabling iOS’ background-location mode. Apps with this mode set to “on” can grab location directly from the operating system whenever they want it. Google Maps, for example, which offers real-time, turn-by-turn navigation, needs to be constantly aware of a user’s precise position, even if the app is not visible on the screen.

Other methods instead ask iOS to report the device’s last known location. These data-asks won’t offer real-time updates, but they still work out to be significantly accurate, highly configurable and consume less power.

If we infer a little bit about Apple’s thinking here, background-location mode’s power demand is fine if the level of precision actually drives something beneficial for the consumer’s core experience. This power-hungry data-ask is not as desirable, however, if it doesn’t specifically benefit the end user. It’s unnecessary and even irresponsible to provide access to background-location mode for apps that don’t explicitly require it for a feature they offer consumers.

Furthermore, some developers, even if they originally requested such access with only good intentions, might later be tempted to use it for unscrupulous purposes. This scenario is what Apple seeks to discourage by implementing the blue bar in iOS 11.

The User Experience’s Friend

In the end, it’s all about building the right SDK. Apple’s blue bar is like a behavioral incentive, one that should drive the best app developers to use APIs that are best suited to the user experience without overtaxing the device’s battery power. An SDK integration that guides publishing partners to not request enabled background-location mode, unless it’s necessary to deliver their core experience, is the right choice for most developers. This approach has already been shown to avoid triggering the blue bar.

No, the sky is not falling. Apple is positioning itself to better assign responsibility for power drain, app by app. This is a good thing. Every mobile marketing stakeholder should applaud the move. If another beneficial effect the blue bar creates is to identify bad apps that are looking for too much data for the wrong reasons, even better.

Follow Verve (@vervemobile) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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