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I recently was in Brisbane and came across street parking where they
were trialling a new form of technology to enforce time restrictions.
After doing some research, I found that each spot was remotely
monitored and will now probably end up with a fine arriving in the mail.
Location aware technology is becoming more powerful and accessible, so
let's have a look at how it works.
Knowing when a customer arrives at a
store, or when they are at a particular
location within a store is a retailer's
dream. Imagine that you walk over
to the vitamins area of the store, and
your phone pops up with a welcome
note and an offer enticing you to buy
today's special, or even a special that
is specifically for you. There are a few
different technologies that could make
this happen, and of course Apple is
there at the forefront with their iBeacon
standard. iBeacons are devices (not
necessarily Apple devices) that put out
short-range signals that can be received
by passing mobile devices. iBeacons
use a new version of Bluetooth called
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE creates
a wireless personal area network, and
consumes a minimal amount of energy
and battery life.
Beacons put out regular
"advertisements" of small pieces of
data that are meant to be collected by
smartphones that use BLE. Once the
phone collects the message, it can
trigger applications on the phone to
display messages or retrieve information
from cloud servers. Each beacon has a
unique identifier in its advertisement
message, and this identifier is passed
to the phone, which in turn can be
passed to an app on the phone to work
out which beacon has transmitted the
message. The beacons don't actually
collect any information, it's up to
the smartphone app to act on this
advertisement from the beacon.
The uses of this technology are
limitless -- some exciting, some scary,
and all made possible because of the
technology in our smartphones and
the fact that we all generally carry one
with us. Imagine having your phone
associated with your hospital admission.
Assuming your phone stayed with you
(which in many cases it wouldn't) the
hospital could track where you are
within the premises, or recognise you
as you arrive on a subsequent visit.
A typical retail use of iBeacons would be
to recognise you (via your phone) as you
walk into a store so that the staff could
personally greet you.
Stick with me
There are even stickers that can act as
beacons, which makes their practicality
even more powerful. The stickers
contain a small battery and a very
tiny computer which transmits the
Bluetooth signal, and they also contain
an accelerometer to detect movement.
The stickers could be attached to display
stock that activates corresponding
advertising information on a nearby
screen as soon as it's picked up.
They could also be placed on a handheld
tablet device to assist with locating it
within a store, or on a handbag which
would alert your phone if you left the
handbag behind somewhere.
Every device that can connect to a
network has a unique identifier called
a Media Access Control (MAC) address.
This MAC address is used in the process
Catch me if you can
BY JASON BRATUSKINS
Jason Bratuskins is a practising community pharmacy
proprietor with an enthusiastic interest in the
application of IT to day-to-day pharmacy. He also
works in the pharmacy IT industry on a number of
cutting-edge eHealth projects for Fred IT Group.
He can be contacted via email at: cyberpharm@
of connecting to a WiFi network, and
is used to identify each device that
is connected. However, even when
you're not actively trying to connect
to a WiFi network, your phone is still
transmitting the MAC address, and
this can be collected and analysed.
As most people carry a phone with
them when they shop, some larger
retailers have started to collect the MAC
addresses that are transmitted from
phones, and then track the location
of the phones in each store, how long
they spend in each area, and how
often they return. If you subsequently
connect to that WiFi network and log
in with an email address, or use a store
app while in the store that holds your
details, the MAC address can be linked
to a person and marketing or offers
targeted even more directly. Even more
daunting is the technology behind
facial recognition which can attempt to
match a MAC address with automated
video recognition of sex, age, colour,
and even emotions.
You can run, but not hide
There are some obvious privacy
concerns around technology that tracks
us in our daily lives. The security and
storage of the data collected and how
it is used is something that needs to
be seriously considered and regulated.
A lot of information is already collected
about our daily lives, and whilst it is
theoretically possible to opt out from
much of it, the majority is all happening
in the background, watching and
analysing without us even realising.
Going back to the parking spot in
Brisbane, there were sensors in the
road underneath the car, and infrared
cameras that recorded the car as it drove
into the spot. Hopefully it's only a trial
and a fine won't arrive!
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