SimpleGeo Makes Location Data Free, Complicates Smartphone Tracking Worries


SimpleGeo has placed 20 million locations for "places" in the public domain to drive developers of location-based service apps. The thing is that data, combined with location-tracking smartphones, could spark unsavory uses too.

In a direct challenge to Foursquare's effort to become the "Rosetta stone" for location-data on identifiable geo-located "places," SimpleGeo is trying to spark a revolution in location-based app writing by making the data for 20 million places available on its servers under the Creative Commons Zero license--essentially placing the data for free into the public domain. 

It's a bold move, because platforms like Foursquare and Yelp, which rely on venue data tied to precise geo-locations, have to struggle to build up their own internal places database over time, relying on multiple database entries from their userbase to create a reliable table of locations. Foursquare's own efforts to promote public access to its database were laudable, but SimpleGeo (which relies on a similar crowd-sourcing technique to build its database) could have even bigger implications, because any app writer can now easily add in location data look-ups to almost any app. And that's exactly what SimpleGeo hopes will happen--CEO Matt Galligan thinks, "There is a future we want to get to when facts are free. We're tryng to force that hand a bit."

SimpleGeo's timing could've been a bit better though: This week there've been a number of privacy concerns raised about historic location-tracking files in both the iPhone and Android platforms--and although the iPhone issue has been debunked to some extent, and Android only keeps 50 locations before continuously over-writing them, the fact remains that both popular smartphones keep track of user locations. These datasets, combined with a location look-up table like SimpleGeo's could marry specific venues to time-stamped GPS data, leading to the inevitable "Bob went to the lap-dancing bar last night" conclusion--a fact that angry spouses, or demographic-savvy advertisers could easily use. 

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Images via Flickr user mukumbura

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  • Tom Kazarian

    I think that the reviews supplied with the other platform data (i.e. Yelp's API) makes those platforms more powerful. Without reviews/ratings, it seems that there would be too much data for a user to sift through and not many options for pre-populating the best places. Anyone have any thoughts on this?