What is Location Data & How to Use It

What is Location Data?

Location data is a subset of geospatial data and provides information related to the geographic positions of devices like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, or structures like historical monuments, buildings, and attractions.

The location data is usually collected and tracked with the help of a GPS satellite. For instance, when the location services of your smartphone is turned on, the phone shares its location via GPS. This location is then collected and tracked by the network carrier.

However, location data is not collected only through mobiles and tablets, but it can also be gathered with the help of other objects like vehicle fleets, wearable devices, shipping cargo and the like.

There are various kinds of location data, like:

  • WiFi/Beacon systems data: This data is mostly used by large retail companies to track the behavior of users as they walk through the door
  • App based location data: The location data extracted from the apps is used to provide better advertisements to the app users
  • Cellular location data: This data is collected from mobile carriers to understand how neighborhoods move and behave

Who uses Location Data and for what use cases?

Location data is finding an array of applications in the business world. Large-scale enterprises and businesses are using location data to direct their marketing campaigns, make educated decisions, and streamline communication with their customers.

Here are a few use cases of location data:

Targeted advertising
Companies use location data to send their advertisements to the right people at the right time to improve the effectiveness of their campaigns and to drive the required results.

Customer analysis
Location data helps enterprises in fetching crucial information related to the movements and visitation patterns of their customers.

Marketing communication
When it comes to writing effective marketing messages, context is the key. You need to understand where your target audiences are coming from to connect to their sentiments, and this is what location data helps you to achieve.

Business forecasting
Various businesses use location data to forecast the sales at their premises by establishing a correlation between inventory levels, footfall levels (location data) and business performance.

Site planning and selection
A lot of companies use location data to choose their site for their next store or to place their next outdoor advertisement.

What are typical Location Data attributes?

Being a subset of geospatial data, location data has the same attributes or data fields as geospatial data – like horizontal accuracy, latitude, and longitude.

Here is a list of some of the attributes of location data:

  • Latitude and longitude are used to determine the location of a device or structure. To be more precise, this data is generally coupled with Horizontal Accuracy to identify the degree of error in a certain data point.
  • Altitude and Elevation are used to determine the height of the object in the question above sea level.
  • Mobile Ad ID which is also known as MAID acts as a unique identifier of smartphones.
  • IP Address, also known as Internet Protocol Address, is used to identify the location of the device, however, the data derived from the IP address is not fairly accurate.
  • Timestamps are used to understand the context of the movement of a particular device.

How is Location Data collected?

Based on the degree of reliability required, location data can be collected in an array of ways. Let’s have a look at some of them.

A location signal
More often than not, location data is collected with the help of signals received from devices. For instance, GPS signals sent by mobile devices. GPS location data is fairly accurate and precise, almost to the 4.9 meter radius.

Next, WiFi networks are another important source of signals that provide great precision and accuracy indoors. Other similar sources of location signal include carrier data towers and beacon.

Each smartphone is associated with an identifier that could track its movement over time. For Android devices, this identifier is called Android Advertising ID or AAID, and for iOS devices, it is called Identifier for Advertising IDFA.

How to assess the quality of Location Data?

To assess the quality of location data, two important factors that you must focus on include the location accuracy and location precision.

While accuracy helps us in understanding as to how close is the geographical reading of the device to the actual location of the device, precision tells us about the level of detail associated with the location.

With location data, and geospatial data in general, assessing data quality becomes often a tricky process. Depending on your use case, there rarely are any benchmarks that you can use during your investigation. You can usually get closest to the truth by merely understanding and making sure the data collection methods are reliable and follow the legal restraints present today. Final assurance can only be gotten through testing the data in its intended environment. Ask your data provider for a sample set and apply it to your use case to see the results it can yield you.

How Location Data is typically priced?

The pricing of location data varies from data provider to data provider. It also depends on the quality of the data provided. As a general rule of thumb, highly accurate data can get costly.

We see a popularity in two pricing models; Businesses’ buying historical location data for analysing patterns in foot traffic, for example, end up paying for their data per given batch.

Others who need more recent and timely updates from their data can often subscribe to real time API’s that are being fed by continuous sources of daily, even hourly updates. For such services, a monthly or yearly subscription fee is the most common form of pricing.

What are the common challenges when buying Location Data?

Location data is facing a range of challenges in today’s scenario:

Consent and privacy concerns
As if the introduction of GDPR in Europe was not enough, the US is preparing itself for the upcoming CCPA act data privacy. This will allow users to exercise more control over their data.

This has made it essential for businesses using location data to be clear on how they collect and use the location data.

Cleaning and normalizing
When compared to other data types, it is a tough challenge to cleanse and normalize the data to make it fit for business analytics and other functions.

What to ask Location Data providers?

While evaluating location data providers, here are a few questions that might help you in the process:

  • How do you define the location?
  • How do you calculate and report exposed visits?
  • How do you fight against misleading and fraudulent data?
  • What are the identifiers used in your datasets?

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