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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