It didn’t come to me as a surprise when news reporting the “hidden sensors inside telephone booths of New york” hit the scene. These sensors are all but just sitting there, all the while tracking people and their whereabouts.
Apparently an outdoor advertising company, Titan, had the Bluetooth beacons installed inside the telephone booths, and their sole purpose was to pass their own location to the customers having smartphone, which eventually reverts the individual’s location data back.
Naturally people started to create a ruckus and Titan was bound to remove the beacons.
On the other hand, after a detailed insight in this technology, we saw that blue tooth beacons cannot track you anymore as much as those stop signs or traffic lights can. As a matter of fact, you may notice that there are thousands of beacons all around you, which include museums, baseball stadiums, retail stores, and in the coming years, this number will increase.
Want to know what a Bluetooth beacon really is? Read on.
What is a Bluetooth beacon in layman terms?
It is a small transmitter, which is powered by small batteries, much like Gimbal Proximity Beacon or the Estimote Beacon. The broadcasting takes place through a low energy antenna. What does it do?
This beacon basically sends out a unique ID number which can only be read by the app installed on your phone, just like a radio station playing one song on repeat. After that, the application looks up the location of that specific beacon and sends you information, depending on your location.
I hope my contacts and text messages are safe:
Yes they are! This information is firmly one way. How? Let’s say, the beacon can talk to an app on your phone, but you phone can’t talk back. In addition to that, the beacon would not be able to contact you cell phone if the “specifies apps” are not installed in your phone.
Location of these beacons:
Apple store has a beacon by the name of iBeacon installed in their stores. This beacon is there to facilitate the customers track the Genius Bar. This beacon is present in more than 250 Apple outlets across the country, and is in coordination with the Apple store app whenever you’re in a store.
Beacons are also present in 20 of the 30 most profound baseball parks, and are there to serve the purpose of guiding fans to their seat, informing them about the “bonus” content and also to market the team merchandise. Whenever virgin Atlantic passengers approach the gates at the London Heathrow airport, they are reminded to show their boarding passes while a beacon present there transfers the information to the passenger’s smartphone.
Similarly, the museums present on both coasts have beacons installed inside of them, and their purpose is to display the history or information about the exhibit or the artifacts in display. Beacons are also setup in tech and film festivals.
Beacons were also used quite recently during a small experiment conducted by Tribeca film festival. They were installed by the same company: Titan and they were used by the applications installed by the festival. Through these apps they prompted the smart phones, showing offers, film trailers and surveys. This experiment was held in order to see how well these beacons would work in dense urban areas, as told by Titans chief strategy officer, Dave Etherington. He continued saying that the results were still being compiled.
How does it work on Bluetooth technology?
When you hear the term Bluetooth, you automatically think of paring up the device, then how does the beacon work? You don’t have to pair your device with anything. Any phone having Bluetooth 4.0—also known as Bluetooth smart– has apps already installed in it, which can detect beacons. IPhones starting with 4s and some of the latest android sets, Google Nexus 7 and the Moto X franchise are some of the devices which use the technology of Bluetooth 4.0.
How does the beacon use the app in my handset?
You don’t necessarily have to launch the app inside your set. The App is normally configured to “listen” to beacon, even when it not in use. However, it is required that the app must be installed and that you would’ve agreed to having your location data collected, and of course your Bluetooth must be turned on!
Do these things work up close?
A beacon can be detected by your phone from about 50 meters away, and it continues after determining the strength of your Bluetooth signal.
So they’re not really harmful!
Beacons are just location markers, the applications which use these beacons are the troublemakers here. They collect information of you whereabouts and what you do. But come to think of it, almost all the smartphones now collect a vast amount of information based on the GPS systems and WIFI mapping.
How is our information being used?
Well, the companies can do almost anything to your personal data, if they haven’t mentioned anything in particular about this in their privacy policies. Yes, the ones that we so conveniently ignore to read, and well there’s always a chance of policies getting altered.
So the application would know what places you’ve visited and it can contain that information for as long as it wants, using it for whatever purpose as he wants to. And yes it is legal!
So how can you tell which apps are using beacons?
Applications like Beacon Scavenger Hunt or Estimode are some of the apps found in both iTunes and Playstore which are used to map or manage beacons. Some of the applications are very open about it, like Apple stores app “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” Major league Baseball’s “At the Ballpark,” and a few others.
How can I prevent my phone from this?
A smart move would be to simply turn your Bluetooth off. But your phone can also be managed in a way that it doesn’t detect the beacon, by making a few changes in the settings.
In an iPhone you can simply go to settings, click privacy and then tap on to location services. Scroll down to the app you want to manage and change the option from always to never. This would turn down any locator trying to locate your set.
Controls are relatively limited in android 4.4, since you are notified before downloading the application that the app might use your Bluetooth device and your location. It is better to turn your Bluetooth off to avoid further hassle.
What about other tracking devices out there?
Many mobile applications are experimenting on the lines of locating information from your set, particularly to know where you shop from, and what your buying patterns are.
In the end, act smart and simply turn your Bluetooth off when not needed.