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Australia’s GPS Navigation Is Off By Five Feet, U.S. Set To See Similar Shift

Here’s why — and what it means for marketers.

If you’ve ever had a ride-hailing app tell you your car is in front of your house when it’s really still down the street, you already know that satellite navigation services’ coordinates aren’t always 100 percent accurate — even as companies work  to improve the quality of their data. But Australia has a bigger location problem than most: The country’s entire GPS navigation is off by about five feet.

According to Atlas Obscura, shifts in tectonic plates have pushed everything on the continent about 1.5 meters from where it’s “supposed” to be — and the Australian government has launched a project to “update the datum underpinning its satellite navigation coordinates.”

Why is this a big deal? Well, as Atlas Obscura’s Jessie Guy-Ryan put it, “Five feet isn’t a big deal when you’re getting directions to a nearby town[.] But as satellite navigation becomes increasingly used in systems that need pinpoint accuracy (think self-driving cars) that little offset becomes a much bigger problem.”

Location Ad Effects

Where else is a little offset a big problem? When it comes to geo-targeting ads, with satellite data as one factor informing a consumers’ mobile location.

Sure, accuracy within five feet is no big deal for a marketer trying to target ads to a consumer in a particular town or zip code, but it matters on a more granular level: Is that customer in a Starbucks location, or just passing by the door? Did they visit a yoga studio, or the video game store next to it? All of this information informs what kinds of messages will be most effective — and whether a consumer is likely to act on them.

We’ve written before about improving the quality of geo-data, but this is an instance where macro changes — like what Australia is doing now to correct its satellite nav coordinates —  do play a key role. In fact, the U.S. will make similar updates in 2022; when that happens, latitude and longitude points in North America will shift at least a meter, Atlas Obscura reported.

So, what’s a marketer to make of all this? Well, it drives home the importance of relying on first-party data to make targeting as effective as possible (up to a point). It also reminds of the importance of investing in improving location technology on the global level down to the local.

And hey — if mobile consumers still aren’t showing up at your door? Go ahead and blame plate tectonics.