Is Apple’s iBeacon Technology a Threat to Consumer Privacy?
Although it was only recently introduced as part of the iOS 7 mobile operating system upgrade, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iBeacon micro-location technology is being increasingly used by various retailers and other businesses. Apple’s iBeacon technology uses the Bluetooth Low Energy communications standard to send notifications to mobile devices based on their proximity to a transmitter. The system is ideal for indoor tracking and can pinpoint a user’s location far more accurately than GPS can.
Last month, Apple revealed that it has started using its iBeacon micro-location technology at all of its 254 U.S. stores. Macy’s (NYSE:M) has also installed “ShopBeacons” that use Apple’s iBeacon technology in several of its retail locations, while Major League Baseball is exploring the use of an iBeacon-based navigation system for its stadiums.
However, as the use of this technology spreads, some privacy advocates have raised concerns about the amount of data that is being collected about consumers. Although Apple requires its users to give their permission before the iBeacon system is activated, some advocates are concerned that some consent forms do not adequately explain the amount of data that can be culled from mobile device tracking systems.
“The scope and the risks and the sharing that takes place now is so far beyond the disclosures consumers typically see,” Fordham University law professor Joel Reidenberg told The Street. “They’re not in a position to really know.”
“If you allow third-party apps or websites to use your current location, you agree to their terms, privacy policies, and practices,” stated Apple on its “Understanding iBeacon” webpage. “You should review the terms, privacy policies, and practices of the apps and websites to understand how they use your location and other information.”
Since many consumers do not realize that companies’ privacy policies do not extend to third-party apps, they do not understand the amount of data that could potentially be collected about them via an iBeacon-based system. For this reason, some privacy advocates believe Apple’s iBeacon technology is a threat to consumer privacy, even if Apple is itself not directly involved in the data collection.
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