What is geofencing, and why is it concerned with privacy?

Geofencing is best shown with a case study.

You’ve just walked out of BMW with a brand new automobile that you’re eager to drive. It’s a luxury automobile, and you plan to savor every minute of ownership… until it’s time to park. Leaving the automobile behind entails being vigilant for would-be burglars. Fortunately, there is a convenient feature: BMW’s Trackstar service, which automatically creates an invisible geofence around the vehicle’s whereabouts.

Every 20 seconds, the automobile transmits a signal to its present position using GPS to establish a geofence. BMW detects and sends a warning if the automobile leaves the geofence or if someone tries to drive the car without the keys. This is a convenient function, and since the barrier is digital, it can be put up regardless of where you park.

BMW’s Trackstar service is just one example of a business that uses geofencing to give value to its clients. Geofencing, a technique that enables the practical use of GPS data, has significant promise in a variety of sectors, including security. Unfortunately, if managed improperly, it may also result in significant privacy issues. If you’re intrigued by the notion, keep your hands on the wheel: the following is an overview of the benefits and drawbacks of geofencing.

What is the definition of geofence?

Geofences are a kind of technology that uses location data to create an invisible barrier in the real world. While the technology often makes use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), it may also make use of other data streams such as cellular, wi-fi, and RFID. If you cannot see or feel anything while passing over a geofence, the system may detect when you enter or depart the electronic barrier if you are carrying a linked device. Consider them comparable to the popular invisible electric fences used by dog owners, but without the jolt. The “geofence” runs on a single device and creates an artificial barrier by selecting a sequence of neighboring geographical points. It then establishes connections to accessible networks, such as cellular or wireless internet, to transmit and receive signals from other devices. If a device broadcasts its position near the border, the geofence may determine whether the device is within or outside the coordinates and trigger a predefined action.

While GPS can determine our global position, geofencing focuses on our closeness to virtual landmarks. When used in conjunction with other programs that provide support for particular warnings or instructions, digital gadgets provide a whole new level of interaction with the real environment. Are you near a certain shop or service center? Are you passing the library while driving with an overdue book in your car? Have your children ventured beyond the boundaries of their immediate neighborhood? Without the use of actual items or symbols, geofencing enables users to set geographic boundaries.

Geofences may be established within defined borders or merely within a specified radius of a given spot.

Prevalent usages

Geofencing technology is rapidly expanding its application base. According to Cision’s PR Web, Interact Marketing, a New York-based marketing agency, is now providing clients with the opportunity to display banner advertisements based on geofencing. The concept is appealing: imagine a customer receiving updates about Macy’s fresh spring discounts while walking down the street. The user is suddenly aware of more than simply a fantastic offer; they are aware of a good deal that is within walking distance of their present position. For many businesses, this form of marketing brings clients in the door and makes them far more receptive to purchasing. Geofencing, which focuses on physical places, is a virtual trend that brick and mortar businesses may use.

You can learn more about geofencing in mobile applications here.

Geofencing is not limited to marketing purposes. Additional common examples of how companies and people might benefit from geofencing include the following:

  • Personal reminders to do certain chores when in the vicinity.
  • Intelligent equipment, such as thermostats, that automatically changes the temperature when a person enters their house.
  • When goods move, security warnings are sent, such as BMW’s Trackstar.
  • Promoting restaurant specials or attracting new business. Consider using targeted advertising to reach relevant consumers to promote local theater, concerts, and events.
  • Assuring that certain creatures, such as cats or dogs, remain in their communities.
  • Tracking shipments, managing logistics, and ensuring delivery on time.
  • Preventing drones from entering restricted airspace.
  • Tourists should heed safety warnings while approaching risky locations.
  • Notifications are sent to parents of toddlers when they leave the home or when younger children depart the area.

Geofencing for enhanced cybersecurity

One of the emerging applications of geofencing is the potential to offer an additional layer of data protection. Similar to how a physical fence may protect physical perimeters, geofencing can provide control over access to digital assets. By confirming the user’s location, a geofence adds a layer of verification. You may impose restrictions on user access by requiring the user to connect from a pre-approved physical location.

Geofencing, in an ideal world, would be a component of multi-factor authentication. While technology is not a panacea for security, it may help your company stay one step ahead. For instance, a geofence will not deter an on-site hacker or an employee from gaining access to protected information. What if, on the other hand, someone gains privileged access from a distant location? What if a hacker obtains account access through phishing? By delivering an alarm or restricting access from beyond allowed perimeters, a geofence might impede and halt their advance. This is especially successful when access is restricted to specific locations rather than to whole cities or nations.

As Medium’s Michael Abboud writes:

“The combination of geofencing and multi-factor authentication provides added layers of security that are extremely difficult to infiltrate.”

Geofencing may also be used to restrict social sharing on major social media platforms. Flickr users, for example, may create a geofence to restrict picture sharing to friends in a certain area. These features may provide comfort to folks who want to participate with their local community but are hesitant to share their photographs publicly.

Concerns about privacy

Geofencing is certainly starting to appear very appealing at this point. Technology can provide enhanced security, consumer involvement, and the ability to monitor problems when you are unable to. However, before using geofencing for your product or business, keep in mind that the technology is not without limitations. Your user’s privacy, in particular, may be jeopardized.

Geofencing may capture more personal data about the user than intended by monitoring our location about actual objects or landmarks. Not only does technology know where we are, but it also ‘sees’ the locations with which we interact. A geofence placed near a hospital and tracking recurrent visits may suggest health problems or loved ones in critical care. Geofencing in the vicinity of places of worship may reflect religious inclinations, while proximity to an LGBTQ+ nightclub might indicate sexual orientation.

Worse, in addition to surveillance, the geofence may be used to inflict psychic anguish on anyone who breaches the borders. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s fight with Copley Advertising is a perfect example. Copley then gave women personalized adverts and messages, including “You Have Choices” and links to anti-abortion alternatives, after geofencing around women’s reproductive health facilities. Copley provided information to third-party marketers, putting herself in danger of being targeted with “possibly unwanted advertising based on inferences about [their] private, sensitive, and intimate medical or physical condition.”

If you’re contemplating using a geofencing service, be sure to verify the appropriate privacy laws first. Are there any restrictions on the acquisition or use of data? Do you need individual permission or certain safeguards? Can clients who are dissatisfied with the service opt-out? Geofencing may be prohibited in certain locations, such as Europe, unless customers opt-in and agree to use the service before implementation.

Other impediments

Along with privacy issues, excessive geofencing use creates other complications. TSheets, a branch of QuickBooks, correctly recalls the example of a Starbucks in New York that uses geofencing to provide tailored adverts to users who pass by. That seems reasonable… until you consider that such a configuration will generate an excessive number of messages for each stroll, eventually annoying the user.

Users may potentially be able to get around your geofence without being aware of it, depending on their configuration. Geofencing may determine if a user is within or outside the fence using a variety of geolocation data, including GPS data or an IP address. What if the user disables GPS and uses a VPN to hide their IP address? This is especially true for services that seek to restrict internet access based on a user’s nation of origin. According to Business Insider, Netflix is continuing its fight against proxy services that provide access to US content from outside the country. If all geolocation data is deactivated or a bogus address is provided, the geofence may be unable to determine who enters and who exits, or if an alarm should be generated.

Is it possible to opt-out of geofencing?

Individuals’ capacity to opt out of geofencing may be limited by local privacy laws or the original geofence’s intent. Individuals, on the other hand, have a few choices for limiting when geofences may observe their arrivals and departures.

  1. Examine your device’s location settings. By disabling location monitoring, such as GPS data, a geofence will be unable to identify you. This may be accomplished on certain devices, such as some models of smartphones, through a toggle in the location settings. Other devices may require you to restrict GPS data tracking by application. Turning off all incoming or outgoing signals, such as through ‘aircraft mode,’ may also disable location; however, keep in mind that airplane mode also disables cellular data, wi-fi, and incoming calls.
  2. Consider your application. The majority of geofencing that is used for commercial reasons, such as advertising, expresses itself through in-app alerts. Certain geofencing features require the use of a shop-specific app. Whether you use a variety of applications for shopping, services, or routine interactions, examine the settings to see if you can disable geofencing adverts or notifications.
  3. Consider using a VPN. Even if you disable location tracking on your smartphone, a geofence may still determine your approximate location using your device’s unique IP address. VPNs conceal your IP address by encrypting data and routing it via other countries.

Future applications

Are there any geofence applications that have not yet been implemented? Unquestionably. As more gadgets connect to the internet of things, the possibility of identifying goods based on their location increases. Geofencing infrastructure is readily accessible and even ubiquitous in the era of smart gadgets. This enables anybody to use geofencing for a variety of applications. Other sectors that may see geofencing modifications include:

  • Logistics services include trucking, warehousing, and other logistical functions.
  • Safety features, such as weapons that work only inside a certain area.
  • Wildlife and domesticated livestock management.
  • Controls for the atmosphere in hotels. Permitting technology to activate or deactivate dependents at the guest’s location.

Additionally, there may be future applications that emerge when geofencing is integrated with other yet-to-be-developed technologies or as the technology itself evolves in unknown ways. While this article focuses on existing modifications, geofencing 2.0 is possible.

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