A Year After GDPR, User Location Sharing Is Much More Selective

This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the implementation of Europe’s GDPR data privacy regulations. From an enforcement standpoint, with the exception of a single major fine against Google and a potentially significant new Irish investigation, it has mostly been a non-event.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of consumers (according to one survey) have done little to exercise their privacy rights under GDPR. The privacy regulations have also done little to increase digital confidence among (UK) consumers, which is probably representative of Europe more broadly.

Despite their seeming passivity in exercising GDPR rights, consumers are increasingly sensitive to privacy issues and expressing their preferences where they have control — in both in Europe and North America. One example is location sharing in mobile apps. Since GDPR was implemented mobile users have become more discriminating about location permissions.

Airship Data on Location Sharing by Region and Vertical
Global Permissions - Sub-Regions and Verticals Location Opt In

Airship (formally Urban Airship) complied data from more than 700 million users globally to report on notification and location opt-in rates. Overall, the notifications opt-in percentage for the Americas region is 64%. The global average is 67%.

In large parts of Europe, location sharing has declined significantly since May 2018. It’s off 36% in Northern Europe and 62% in Western Europe. Location opt-ins are also down 25% in North America. This is likely the direct result of increased privacy awareness and sensitivity over the past year. On a global basis, however, in specific verticals (i.e., entertainment and food) location sharing is up.

What this suggests is that users are becoming more conscious and selective about when/why they share location with publishers and developers. Consumers are clearly willing to share their location when there’s a compelling reason but the days of widely available background location are probably over.

Global Permissions - OS permission settings

This is partly because Android Q will make Android location permissions more like iOS (always, while in use and never). With iOS, those options have caused more people to share location while apps are in use, but many fewer people share always-on location in the background.

The shift reflected above, combined with browser cookie-tracking changes and regulation (GDPR and forthcoming CCPA), will impact the availability of third party location data in the ecosystem. This forces marketers and brands to invest and do much more with their first party data.

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