What is a Location-Based Service?

A location-based service is a service on a cellular phone or other mobile device which is dependent on the location of the device. A classic example of a location-based service is a monitoring program used by parents to track their teenagers, with the parents operating under the assumption that their children cannot be far from their phones. The number of location-based services available doubled between 2008 and 2009, illustrating a leap in consumer interest in such services and increasing reliance on such services.

With a location-based service, the device determines its location, and this information is used to generate other useful information for the user. For example, a commuter might have a location-based traffic alert service, which signals the user when there are interruptions to traffic ahead, and suggests alternate routes to avoid these interruptions. Likewise, location-based services are used by some public transit authorities; a user can log on and see where the next bus, train, or boat is and when it will be arriving.

Location-based services can also be used to locate friends who have subscribed to such services, or to generate a listing of services in an area which may be useful. For example, someone could ask a mobile device to spit out a list of restaurants within a certain radius, or to flag dry cleaners, bookstores, or other types of establishments. The service may network with a program which provides reviews, as well, allowing a user to quickly scroll through to find the best and the closest.

LBS, as location-based service is known, can be extended to a wide variety of uses. Cell phone providers are constantly being pressured to roll out new services, and a provider which fails to offer location-based services may find itself losing market share. Consumers started to regard such services as standard in 2008, seeking out providers which offered a range of options.

Some privacy concerns have been raised about the use of location-based services. If a phone can track its own location and provide data about its location, this data could presumably be used in a variety of ways, some of which people may be uncomfortable with. On the low end of the scale, people who sign up for programs which relay their location to friends may find the services intrusive, and teens who are tracked by phone often express a sense of violation. In a more disturbing realm, a location-based service could be used to deliver targeted advertising, to track data about users of personal devices, and in other activities which people may not find acceptable.