A location-based service uses the geographical location of your mobile phone and other mobile devices that are equipped with location abilities (e.g. Nintendo DS) to provide services such as traffic and weather updates, local information (e.g. where the nearest cash point is), entertainment, advertising and friend finder and to help the emergency services find you if you contact them when you’re in trouble.
There are several types of location-based services:
- Single user location services that are initiated by users to help find local information, such as traffic and weather updates and local places and services. No location information is shared with other people when you use these services
- Multi-user location services, where the user initiates the sharing of their location with other users of the service
- Passive location services, where the person being located is not using the locating service themselves, but they may have consented to allow another person or service to locate them (e.g. they could have consented offline or via text)
Although they’ve been around for a while, location-based services have become more popular recently. Their success has been driven by:
- The rise in the number of mobiles that come with GPS and/or Wi-Fi access, such as the iPhone, BlackBerry Bold, Nokia and other smart phones. Both GPS and Wi-Fi identify and communicate the location of your service without your mobile network operator being aware of it
- The ability to download location-based mobile applications (often called apps) from the internet and to use websites and browsers that offer location capabilities on your phone. The companies that develop these apps, websites and browsers – from large brands like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to start-ups like Foursquare – can then find you
These new location-based services aren’t always provided by or controlled by mobile networks – they have the ability to identify your location through a combination of mobile networks, GPS and Wi-Fi hot spots. There are 1000s of these applications available and they’re increasingly being integrated into online social networks so that you can share your location with friends.