iBeacons and Location Privacy

One of iBeacons greatest attributes is that it allows end-users to control their location privacy and still benefit from location awareness in applications. With the shift from GPS coordinates to the presence of a physical iBeacon it no longer requires persistent location awareness or allow an application to track precise location information at will.

With iBeacon, end-users need not worry that a particular application may be snooping their current location or if that data is visible to anyone else as it goes through 'the wire'. A huge relief in light of the revelations around the NSA programs.

Unfortunately, this concise differentiation isn't passed on to the end-user in iOS. When the application requests to monitor an iBeacon region what the end-user will see is the same request for an application to access their current, precise location.

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Whilst it is somewhat accurate, an iBeacon is fixed to a particular location, it doesn't convey that when outside the receivable region of the beacon the application has no way of tracking your location if its only using Core Locations iBeacon regions. However, I believe this clear differentiation needs to be expressed properly to the end-user to inform them about the applications intent and capabilities with what its requesting. A basic example of the OS handling this would be a message like so.

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This would require that inside of Core Location the request is expressly for — all or mixed options of — iBeacons, GPS locations or Geofencing which is then reflected correctly in the message. However, this may be a problem because of the current implementation of region monitoring is that it can be made at any time in execution. Multiple and mixed region or location monitoring requests may be made independently of one another and not combined in one alert message. This will not be a viable solution for an OS initiated message.

At this time and most likely into the future it will be the responsibility of the developer and their applications presentation to clearly convey their intentions and usage of iBeacon regions. When using iBeacons the request reads the same as "I want your GPS location whenever I want" which is — rightly so — becoming more frowned upon by end-users.

Its up to the developers to be responsible about their location information requirements and educate the end-user consistently as a whole so this truly magnificent technology can be widely adopted and — most importantly — trusted by end-users to reduce the need for GPS location awareness.