User privacy is a very high priority at Smartwhere.  We are as diligent about securing personal identifiable information as you, so as a result, we give you multiple ways to control privacy setting for your campaigns to provide proximity security to you, and to your end users.

With that in mind, a few months ago, you may have seen the following headlines in your RSS feed:

Are New York City Phone Booths Tracking Your Location?

Hundreds Of Devices Hidden Inside New York City Phone Booths

Phone Booth ‘Beacons’ Track New Yorkers’ Movements

Tracking Devices? Not at all!

The background on these articles is that someone discovered “tracking devices” installed in select pay phones in New York.  In reality, the devices were beacons and it was soon discovered that the beacons were placed by an advertising company called Titan, with the tacit approval of the city.  However, due to the backlash over privacy concerns, the city of New York ordered the removal of all beacons.Without getting into the decision why the beacons were placed in the payphones in the first place (the articles are a little nebulous as to why they were placed and for what purpose), and not getting into the very legitimate questions about the relative lack of transparency in the process, the common theme and concern expressed was that these beacons were placed in order to track people’s activity without their knowledge and consent.

In the articles, amongst the warnings and comments from privacy advocates, there is a note stating without an app installed on the device that is actively listening for the signal broadcast by the beacon, there is no notification pushed to user devices.  That’s a key factoid that is lost in the headlines used on these articles and in the tone and tenor in the article text.  Simply put, there are some safeguards in place here that belie the uncertainty and doubt expressed in these articles.

Beacons Do Not Store Information

They cannot receive information.  In some ways, they’re akin to an old school autodialer, notifying parents that their child’s school has been closed due to snow.   They broadcast information but do not take it in (for more on how beacons work, check out one of my previous blogs:

For beacons to work, an app is required to receive the signal that is broadcast.  The user will also need to approve location services for that app (typically, the request will come in the form of a pop up message once the app is opened).  Thus, if the app is not installed, the mobile device cannot receive the notification.  If the user elects to install the app, but disallow location services, users will not receive the notification.

Users with the app installed, should they feel uncomfortable with the notifications received, or the volume of notifications received, can simply disable location based services for that application.  That too will prevent further notifications pushed to users.

Users Are In Control

Finally, users can simply disable location based services, or disable bluetooth altogether.  This action will also ensure notifications are not sent, but overall this isn’t ideal because location services and bluetooth are required for navigation, or pairing with a fitness tracker or headset.

In each of these situations, there’s the option by the end user to opt-in to receive the signals broadcast.  Even if one elects to receive these notifications, that action is not a one time decision.  Users can go back in and remove/deny location services afterward.  Users will always be in control whether or not they want to receive these notifications.

Considering how ingrained smartphones and other like devices are in our lives, and the impending emergence of proximity based services, there’s definitely some uncertainty about how some of these services work.  However, there’s some messaging and stories that are just incorrect or presented without context.  We hope this blog helped shed some light on this subject.

Please tell us if you agree, or have had different experiences via the comment section below, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.  As advocates for proximity based solutions, we are here to answer any questions you may have with the technology to help clear up or clarify any confusion or uncertainty.


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If you’re interested in getting more information on how Smartwhere can bring proximity to your mobile environment, or to get started on a trial, please contact us at

About Smartwhere

Smartwhere is a powerful proximity platform that allows you to quickly and easily integrate proximity solutions into your existing environment. Whether it’s mobile retail, interactive marketing, or location-based advertising, Smartwhere is an all-in-one cloud-based platform that delivers and manages relevant content to consumers and other end users when and where they need it.

Topics: iBeacons, Beacons and Privacy



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