Startup "Miles" today launched a new iOS app [Direct Link] that grants its users exclusive rewards to use at places like Starbucks and Whole Foods every time they travel in a car, bus, on a bike, or on foot. The company aims for its app to be a ground transportation alternative to frequent flier miles, allowing users to earn discounts over time for travel that they likely perform more frequently than flying on an airplane (via The Verge).

The caveat is that for the full experience, the Miles app requires you to give it constant access to your location, so it can keep up with automatically tracking your movement and converting its "miles" currency into deals and offers. You can opt to choose "only while using the app," but you'll then need to remember to keep Miles open every time you travel in order to gain rewards.

Under Miles' rewards, you'll earn more miles for transportation that is more environmentally friendly: one real-world mile of walking/running grants you 10 reward miles, one mile of biking is worth five reward miles, a mile in a ride share vehicle is worth two, and a mile in a car is equivalent to one reward mile.

miles rewards app
At launch, you'll be able to trade these reward miles in for deals like $5 gift cards to Starbucks, Amazon, and Target, $42 off a first order from Hello Fresh, a complimentary rental on Audi's Silvercar service, and more. Other launch partners include Whole Foods, Canon, Bath & Body Works, and Cole Haan. When you trade in miles for rewards, some deals grant you with a barcode to scan at the physical checkout location (Starbucks), while others provide you with discount codes.

In terms of its tech, Miles works in the iPhone's background to automatically log each trip a user takes from point A to point B. The company says that the app "consumes almost no power" when stationary, and will only "minimally increase battery consumption" when in transit. The app detects drives in a vehicle with special formulas that don't rely solely on GPS for location data, helping to reduce battery consumption.

The app remembers your trips and logs them so you can revisit them later (including time of day, starting location, ending location, and distance) and fix any mistakes it might have made, like incorrectly logging a vehicle trip for a ride share. Additionally, there's a section of the app that The Verge describes as a "Venmo-style feed," showing how other users are earning and redeeming their miles.

In an attempt to get ahead of users worrying about their location data being constantly tracked and stored by a third party, Miles CEO Jigar Shah says that neither the company nor its partners get access to specific location information. Instead, user data that is gathered is more ambiguous, but the app still knows when users travel, how they travel, and what deals they clip -- which is then fed into a "predictive marketing AI platform" to match them with other appropriate deals.

Once more people in an area begin clipping the same coupons, Miles uses this vague user data to predict demand for the most popular rewards. Shah says this prediction of "near-future demand" plays into the creation of future rewards as well, and is the backbone of the entire app:

To better explain how this works, Shah says, imagine there are 50,000 Miles users. 10,000 of those might be within 0.3 miles of a Starbucks. Out of those users, Miles can figure out which ones are most likely to buy a coffee within the next hour based on the history of where and when those people have stopped at coffee shops in the past. From there, Miles can also tell which users are likely to go to Starbucks, which will go somewhere else, and which customers aren’t too picky.

Miles then lets Starbucks tailor different offers to those specific groups. Maybe a Dunkin Donuts loyalist sees a $5 Starbucks gift card show up in the app that’s redeemable for 1,500 miles, instead of the typical 3,000, and decides to break rank. The goal is to get deals in front of customers when they’re “most receptive,” Shah says. “We allow [businesses] to understand their own customers’ near future. What do they need in the next four hours, next four days, and next four weeks? We’re literally making predictions about what their customers need and when they need it.”

The CEO promises that this "anonymously" aggregated information is secure and "nothing of users' data leaves the system." Still, as The Verge points out, the app will essentially be a middleman between businesses and customers, holding the latter's personal data in its hands, which is believed to have been what brought big brands to support Miles at launch in the first place.

Despite promises of personal data privacy and security, Miles is launching in a time when online privacy is at the forefront of many users' awareness when signing up for a new service, or deciding to leave an old one. In the spring, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, wherein more than 87 million Facebook users had their personal data gathered and used to reportedly influence their votes during the 2016 presidential election.

Another app that heavily relies on user location data also faced a scandal in the spring, with MoviePass coming under fire for CEO Mitch Lowe pointing out that it watches "how you drive from home to the movies" and how the company watches "where you go afterwards." Lowe eventually admitted he was "completely inaccurate" and that the app "has never tracked" users in the background, with the developers removing an "unused app location capability" shortly after the story was shared online.

Just last week, privacy researchers began pointing out that Venmo's publicly viewable feed of money exchanges (which has been around since the app launched), does not sit well in today's privacy-concerned climate. Now, more people have begun questioning why Venmo chose to have the feed's settings default to public sharing, likely resulting in many users who may not know their payment information is available for others to see.

Top Rated Comments

lolkthxbai Avatar
46 months ago
lol what? no way, this is literally turning the customer into the product
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AKDub Avatar
46 months ago
I wonder how long it will be until a company is just honest and says "Install our app, it has no features but we will track you and at the end of every month you get a $10 iTunes voucher"
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
brian3uk Avatar
46 months ago
There a bunch of apps that do this sorta thing. None of them have ever been worth it. Why/how is this one different?
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dannyyankou Avatar
46 months ago
Cool, I got a 2,000 mile sign up bonus and can immediately redeem a $5 Starbucks gift card.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
I7guy Avatar
46 months ago
Next thing you know, advertisers will be posting billboards along certain routes people travel and making coupons available in newspapers, magazines, and online, and credit cards will be able to track your location and shopping habits by knowing where you use their card. That’s just simply crazy if those things happen!

How is this "news?" Or am I late to the game in that app developers can buy advertising in the form of news articles? I wonder how much it would cost for me to run an advertisement news article to peddle my feelings on how iOS UIx has degraded ever since iOS7 and that Jony Ive is not nearly as good a designer as he's imagined himself to be, in his quest towards thin, unserviceable, modifiable and generally weak-performing laptops compared to the competition? :)
Like how you managed to get a dig in at ios and Ive. Well done.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Zorn Avatar
46 months ago
Download it, sign up with a burner email, grant it location only while using the app, then as soon as you redeem the $5 gift card log out of the app and delete it from your device. Easy stuff and got a Starbucks gift card instantly.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

airpodsinear 1

AirPods Save Woman's Life With Feature Everyone Should Know

Friday January 21, 2022 2:13 am PST by
Apple's AirPods have been credited with saving a woman's life after a potentially fatal fall, People reports. When a 60-year-old florist in New Jersey tripped and hit her head in her studio, she lost consciousness and awoke heavily bleeding. With nobody around to call for help, she realized she had her AirPods in, and used a "Hey Siri" command to call 911. An operator was able to stay on the ...
iphone 13 earpods

Apple to Stop Including EarPods With Every iPhone Sold in France From Next Week

Friday January 21, 2022 3:21 am PST by
Apple will no longer include EarPods with every iPhone sold in France, starting on January 24, according to a notice posted by a French carrier (via iGeneration). Apple was previously required to include EarPods in the box with the iPhone due to a French law that required every smartphone sold in the country to come with a "handsfree kit," but the law has now been changed in favor of reducing the ...
peloton tv workout cardio

Apple Floated as Potential Buyer of Peloton

Friday January 21, 2022 6:11 am PST by
Following months of bleak news about Peloton's "precarious state," including the revelation that it has halted production of its bikes and treadmills, Apple is being floated as a potential buyer of Peloton's troubled fitness business. Yesterday, CNBC reported that Peloton will temporarily stop production of its connected fitness products due to a "significant reduction" in consumer demand, a ...
Questionable Design Decisions

Apple's Most Questionable Design Decisions in Recent Memory

Sunday January 23, 2022 2:59 am PST by
Apple has always emphasized the depth of thought that goes into the design of its products. In the foreword to Designed by Apple in California, a photo book released by the company in 2016, Jony Ive explains how Apple strives "to define objects that appear effortless" and "so simple, coherent and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative." But every once in a while even Apple...
Spring 2022 Apple Products Feature

New iPad Air, Macs, and iPhone SE With 5G Likely to Be Announced at Apple Event This Spring

Thursday January 20, 2022 8:32 am PST by
Earlier this week, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman tweeted that Apple "will be holding a spring event" to announce a new iPhone SE and other hardware. In a recent edition of his newsletter, Gurman said the event is likely to occur in March or April. Gurman did not elaborate on what "other hardware" will be announced at Apple's purported spring event, but rumors suggest at least four products are...
Upcoming Products 2022 Feature

Gurman: Apple Preparing 'Widest Array of New Hardware Products in Its History' for Fall

Sunday January 23, 2022 10:32 am PST by
Apple is working on a number of new products that are set to launch this fall, and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that it will be "the widest array" of new devices that Apple has introduced in its history. In his latest "Power On" newsletter, Gurman explains that Apple is working on four new iPhones (5G iPhone SE, iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max), an updated low-end MacBook Pro,...
apple watch series 7 aluminum colors yellowbg

Apple Watch Charging Bug Fixed in watchOS 8.4 Release Candidate

Thursday January 20, 2022 4:01 pm PST by
The watchOS 8.4 release candidate that was seeded to developers and beta testers this morning addresses an ongoing bug that could cause some Apple Watch chargers not to work properly with the Apple Watch. Back in December, we reported on a growing number of charging issues that Apple Watch Series 7 owners were facing. Since watchOS 8.3, there have been a number of complaints about...
safari icon blue banner

macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 Release Candidates Fix Safari Bug That Leaks Browsing Activity

Thursday January 20, 2022 1:30 pm PST by
The macOS Monterey 12.2 and iOS 15.3 release candidates that came out today appear to address a Safari bug that could cause your recent browsing history and details about your identity to be leaked to malicious entities. As shared last week by browser fingerprinting service FingerprintJS, there is an issue with the WebKit implementation of the IndexedDB JavaScript API. Any website that uses...
apple college discounts

Apple Walks Back UNiDAYS Verification Requirement for U.S. Education Store

Friday January 21, 2022 12:43 pm PST by
Earlier this week, Apple began requiring that customers taking advantage of educational discounts in the United States verify their status as a teacher, student, or school staff member through UNiDAYS. The requirement was a major change as Apple had never asked customers to go through a verification process in the United States before, and now, just three days after verification was added,...