Talking tech since 2003

When Facebook released their standalone Messenger app in 2011, users were hesitant to download it. Rumors concerning the app’s user permissions and privacy settings spread. Many believed Facebook was using the app to record private conversations and track users’ whereabouts. 

Fortunately, the app wasn’t required for users to access Messenger. Until it was. 

In 2014, Facebook removed the ability to access Messenger from their native mobile app. The move forced millions of Messenger users to download an app they didn’t trust. Uninformed tech bloggers had a field day. 

One Houston radio station warned: “The folks at Facebook can see through your lens on your phone whenever they want … they can listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to!”

Meanwhile, a Huffington Post contributor called the app as “insidious.” They encouraged users to delete the app immediately and “take a stand” against invasive technology like Facebook Messenger.

Of course, Facebook set the record straight. They reminded users that the app requires the same level of access as Facebook. Nothing had changed in terms of Facebook Messenger permissions. 

But the damage was done. When Facebook users eventually downloaded the Facebook Messenger app, they did so without enabling photo, audio, or location services. Including me. 

For the past several years, I’ve been using Facebook Messenger without location services. It’s not because I’m worried about Mark Zuckerberg knowing my location or listening to the oh-so-important conversations I hold behind closed doors. I just forgot I turned location services off. 

Until Katy Perry asked me to turn them back on.

I mean, Katy Perry’s bot. 

My favorite pop singer’s Messenger bot promised to send me important notifications concerning new releases and upcoming tours. The bot also promised to alert me when Katy Perry is performing or visiting cat cafes near me. 

“I just need to know where u are. Is that okay with u?” she asked me. 

“Sure!” I replied. And I hastily enabled location services for Facebook Messenger. I shared my exact GPS location with Katy Perry’s bot, knowing it was unlikely that Katy Perry would ever show up at my house.

Location-aware mobile alerts are on the rise—and we’re ok with it

The fact that I was willing to send a literal robot my exact location via Facebook Messenger shouldn’t be a surprise. Times have changed. 77 percent of mobile users allow apps to track their location even when they’re not in use, according to a 2017 TSheets survey. 

In other words, average consumers aren’t really bothered by apps that track their location, as long as there’s a good reason for it. 

In my case, knowing when Katy Perry is nearby is reason enough to enable location tracking services on my phone. For coffee lovers, allowing the Starbucks app to track their locations might result in a free Frappuccino the next time they’re near a storefront. 

In fact, 78 percent of mobile users in the TSheets survey said they’re happy to receive a location-aware alert from an app. That’s even when the purpose of the notification is to sell them something. Nearly 84 percent of mobile users will even cash in special offers right away. 

As long as the alert is useful, not too frequent, and intended to improve the recipient’s life, they don’t mind the occasional disruption.

But that begs the question: What do mobile users consider a “useful” notification? 

Social media notifications are annoying, survey confirms

Surprisingly, the survey found that social media notifications from apps like Facebook and Instagram are among the first to go. Along with game notifications and sports notifications, social media alerts are largely considered annoying, not useful, and too frequent for the average mobile user’s taste. 

On the other side of the spectrum, mobile users are least likely to disable notifications on weather apps, work-related apps, and productivity apps. They find these app notifications more useful than their Facebook feed updates. And they trust these apps and believe they make their lives easier. 

And employers are taking note. 

Geofencing gains popularity in the workplace, employees don’t mind

For employers, the benefits of geofencing technology within the workplace are clear. Location-aware apps increase employee accountability, prevent time theft, and help keep employees safe on the job.

But how do employees feel about location-aware notifications at work? 

They don’t really mind, according to the survey. When combined with work-related apps for time tracking and scheduling, these notifications often fall into the “useful” category. They can remind workers to clock in or out when they enter or exit a job site or notify them of shift changes.

Of the employees who had previous experience using geofencing technology at work, 53 percent reported a positive experience, and 36 percent felt neutral. Only 11 percent of employees said work-related notifications left a bad taste in their mouth.

What’s more, employees who felt iffy about geofencing technology were more concerned about their cellphone batteries and data plans than they were about their privacy. 

Nearly 80 percent of employees with employer-provided phones said they actually liked using geofencing app technology. That’s compared to just 56 percent of employees who used their own devices. (Employers, take note!)

What Katy Perry can teach us all about geofencing

Mobile users are more than happy to disclose their location to an app or a bot and enable location-based notifications, as long as they trust the app and believe it will benefit them in the long run. 

“Trust” and “usefulness” are two of the top factors users consider when they decide whether or not to allow an app to track their location. I trust Katy Perry, and I want to be notified when she’s within 100 miles of my location. Sending her bot my coordinates was a no-brainer. 

In the end, the rumors surrounding “insidious apps” and geofencing technology seem like an overreaction to what consumers now accept as the norm. The data suggests that it’s entirely ok to engage in disruptive, location-based marketing with your customers and even introduce similar tactics in the workplace. That is, as long as your notifications make their lives just a little bit better. 

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