Even though "geolocation" may not exactly be an everyday term, chances are you use it — or at least encounter it — on a regular basis. Geolocation is the positioning of a device or person to a near-exact location using a GPS chip in a device. What this means is that usually through satellite technology the GPS chip will tell people, apps or systems exactly where you are at a given time, which then can act based on your location. Geolocation has seen an explosion in use in recent years, with some of the most common applications discussed here.

Social Media

Geolocation has been especially prominent in the world of Facebook and Twitter. The apps may grab your location automatically when posting a picture or a tweet, and then include the location in your post. This gives people a sense of where you are and what you are doing. It is also a good way for the apps to show you ads relevant to where you are. If these systems are accurate enough at determining your precise location, and if they have a robust marketing system, they can send unique ads directly to you based on the information you are handing out. Foursquare, Yelp and other similar apps will post where you eat and what you like about those locations.

Maps

Remember back in the day going to MapQuest, printing out the directions and praying that there wasn’t a detour or any other reason you had to go off your course? Well those days are mostly gone. Geolocation and other GPS devices tell you exactly where you are and spit out information on what’s coming up on your path as well as different venues that are nearby. Instead of running into a traffic jam, the system will probably detect it well before you encounter it and give you an alternative route.

It seems that we've only scratched the surface when it comes to all the possibilities with map applications. FedEx has utilized Google Maps so that they can adjust office hours on the fly, and that information will be updated for everyone in the world to see. A smartphone app called Waze not only uses geolocation GPS data, but combines that with user-submitted data for traffic jams, landmarks, police traps and will even suggest the cheapest gas in an area.

Delivery

The possibility of having goods delivered directly to you has been around for a while, but there haven’t been many real-use cases. Now, use cases are finally starting to emerge as companies are starting to get more and more data from geolocation and GPS to decide where people will drive to buy their groceries or whether they would be more likely to make a purchase through an app or website. In Europe a few startups have been using cloud services and user-driven data to find different ways to collect food from local sites and then distribute it to paying customers. It’s a small use case, but one that could grow if it becomes more economical.

Amazon has also come up with its drone concept, where you can purchase something on their site and have it delivered directly to you four hours later by a flying drone. Currently this mechanism uses shipping addresses, but what is stopping it from using geolocation in the future to make shipments exact and not allow for human typos in entering address information? There are still some gaps, but the future is getting closer.

Similar Interests

Companies gather information from you when you use geolocation and other services. Oftentimes what this means is they know where you are going and have a good idea of what you are buying. Then the next time you are in an application and get an advertisement, it will be very similar to something you have recently done. The days of getting very generic ads are gone.

This information can be used for many purposes and a common example is restaurants. If you frequent Mexican restaurants where you live and then plan a trip to Chicago, there is a good chance you might get an ad for Mexican cuisine in Chicago, or Yelp or some other app will suggest a restaurant that matches your interests. This can come up in many different ways from similar items you are looking to buy or eat, as well as travel destinations and more.

Privacy Concerns

Geolocation is great, but it does come at a price, and that price is your privacy. With geolocation turned on, there is a possibility that malicious people will know exactly where you are and are not, and when. There have been concerns recently in regards to pictures being posted of young children that have geolocation turned on, as kidnappers could use that information to target young children. Furthermore, some are concerned that if geolocation shows that someone is away from home, their home may be targeted for crime, such as burglary. The key is to know how to turn on and off geolocation for certain applications and devices and to understand how that information can potentially be used by anyone who has access to it.

Geolocation can be a valuable and useful tool, but one should consider its benefits and risks before using it.