Location-based services have been growing some years ago, starting from RFID devices. Initially, they are for industrial use, tracking cargoes, sales items, and sometimes persons using bracelets or identity cards. RFID are close-proximity devices and signals are read by RFID detectors at close range. Later, with more powerful detectors and GPS technology, location-based services extended to geospatial level.
Such services are now extended to the commercial world with the proliferation of smartphones. Firms want to know where you are. Many people also want others to know where they are. It is a widespread practice that people stamp their own location at social media, letting others know where they are and what they are doing. This information turns out to be useful to business and so companies are all engaging in the effort of knowing where you are.
Computerworld has an article last month detailing the latest development of location-based services and their effect on personal privacy.
Your whereabout is tracked at three levels: vicinity, presence and department.
With a smartphone, your location is easily obtainable through the GPS satellite network. There are already many apps which enable a person to locate the whereabout of their friends. The location obtained through GPS is not very precise, only to within a few blocks. Thus only the vicinity of location is known. But this is already sufficient if someone wants to track down another person. On big data level, location of the mass could provide valuable demographic information on traffic, crowd control and rescue operations.
To pinpoint the presence of a person in a building, some more information is required. There is now an apps used by many department stores which offer shopkicks whenever the customers visit the stores. With prior registration, a customer’s smartphone is recognized within the store, and shopkicks in the form of cash points or bonus points are automatically rewarded to the customer’s account. Customers could earn money just by browsing in the store. It is a very effective way to attract customers.
To gauge the preference of customers, it is more useful if the precise location at a particular department is known, or better still, what merchandise they are interested in. Some companies use the blue tooth technology which could triangulate smartphone signals and obtain its accurate location within the store. Some stores even invite customers to scan the barcodes of merchandise to obtain detailed information and be rewarded with discount. At the same time, the store could record the wish of the customers for future reference.
Besides the NSA and the CIA, many companies are very eager to know where you are. They could get the information without your knowing, or provide some incentives so that you are happy to give them the information. There are now a lot of people willingly or intentionally letting their location known to others.
Whether letting others know your location is a good or bad thing remains to be a personal choice. But such personal data have been a target of commercial war, with the customers in the dark. The article disclosed two cases where rival companies may be competing to use such data. One is anti-showrooming. Customers always go to showroom to examine a product and then go home to buy it online at a lower price. If the location of the customer is known, discount could be offered right away, closing the deal before the customer leaves. The other war occurs when a rival company captures the identity of valuable customers at prestigious locations and offers them alternative products. All in all, these involve the use of personal data for which the customers may not approve.
At this smartphone age, there is still one thing you could do to protect your location. Just turn off your phone if you want to.