iPhone New Tracking Feature Invades Privacy

A latest software upgrade from Apple for iPhone iOS 7, includes a capability for brand corporations, retail stores, attraction places and other visitor friendly location to track users and their movement indoors and out with alarming accuracy.

A new software name iBeacons, tracks and records  customer’s movement and  features store coupons & special offers which pop up in your iPhone while certain applications are at use.

The sensitivity of information recorded and stored in unencrypted text files through smartphones, has sparked numerous controversies worldwide.

In 2013, a case has stirred the society when Nordstrom was caught secretly tracking shoppers smartphones using WiFi in 17 different locations. After the scandal turned public the department chain quickly closed such practice.

With iBeacons, unlike other retail location tracking systems, iPhone users have to give their consent to be tracked by installing an app. So far, just Apple’s own Apple Store app on the iPhone, and coupon & rewards apps from a company called inMarket have disclosed they will use iBeacons for tracking customers.

The scope of the risk, however is the privacy concern offered by the apps when they seek customer personal information. And if consumers sign up for mailing lists or click social media links, personally identifiable information could be shared. Most of the users consent don’t come close to revealing just how much data could be collected or how it will be used.

“The risks of sharing that takes place now is so far beyond the disclosures consumers typically see,” warns Fordham University law professor Joel Reidenberg. “They’re not in a position to really know.”

While customers can turn access to iBeacons ON and OFF for any applications via a location services settings screen on the iPhone, regulators have at the most taken a piecemeal approach so far, which led one industry to create a “Do Not Track” list modeled on the successful “Do Not Call” list for telemarketing. Find out more what Apple says on their web page iOS: Understanding iBeacon.

“If you allow third-party apps or websites to use your current location, you agree to their terms, privacy policies, and practices,” Apple states on their page. “You should review the terms, privacy policies, and practices of the apps and websites to understand how they use your location and other information.”

Due to the fact that not all consumers read the fine print of privacy policies which tend to change frequently without your knowledge, some privacy policies are not even available on certain applications from third party to whom your data is sold. And storing extensive amounts of data creates the risk that hackers will steal the information, as happened during the Target breach which took place on November 27, 2013.

“Without knowing where the data is flowing and what is going to happen with it, consumers can’t make good decisions,” says Jennifer Urban, co-director of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley Law School.

The company states that protecting customer privacy is important. “Our system considers privacy by design, and requires users to opt-in by downloading apps and opt-in to location services,” inMarket said in a statement. “This is a fundamentally different design than the systems that require opt-out.”

The privacy policy also states that the firm no longer uses the analytic companies to perform tracking on consumers, they rather share links with several advertising network places embedded in privacy policy of inMarket.

The iBeacons is also featured on Bluetooth wireless adapter. The application for iPhone pikes up sensor signals installed in Bluetooth device and contacts a nearby retailer or advertiser which will immediately track your location, register your information and send you latest available offers or coupons. Because every phone’s Bluetooth adapter has a unique serial-number-like identifier, called a MAC Address, retailers and other trackers can also tie movement data to a specific device. The service also offers consumers to create individual accounts or opportunity to use the app on your Facebook or other social network accounts. Retailers later tie data from a specific phone app to a specific person.

The new iBeacons Apple software has many other features such as  phone-based guided audio tours around a museum or tracking children’s toys so they don’t get lost. Some privacy advocates would like the government to step in and regulate the collection of such information and uses of location-tracking data. Others see industry self-regulation as a better path.

Under an agreement prompted in part by New York Senator Charles Schumer, a handful of the biggest location tracking analytics firms agreed in October, 2013 to a code of conduct to protect consumer privacy. The code requires stores to post signs warning customers if surreptitious tracking is going on.

“It’s critical for retailers to step up and lean in,” says Jules Polonetsky, who helped craft the code. He was the chief privacy officer for AOL and DoubleClick and now heads the advocacy group The Future of Privacy Forum in Washington, D.C.

“Self-regulation may be just the first step needed”, says Anita Ramasastry, a law professor at University of Washington, who thinks the industry-led effort should be given a chance.

“I’m in wait-and-see mode,” she says. “Although I’m in Seattle and I’ve yet to see a sign posted in any stores.”

Original source by Aaron Pressman

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