Indoor Navigation Feature of iOS7 - iBeacon, Can It Harm Our Privacy?
New verson of Apple's operation system has a lot of new features, one if them is iBeacon, which we would like to discuss today. There are lots of info on that feature on the internet, they say that it will change the market of mobile payments, indoor navigation and will be a killer of NFC. We'll see how that will work out.
So iBeacon is a beacon that uses Bluetooth technology to broadcast three parameters: proximity UUID, major and minor parameters. Nothing special here, but iOS7 makes it really simple to work with those. Well, the first parameter — proximity UUID is an unique 128-bit identifier, all the beacons within one facility have the similar pUUID. Major and Minor parameters are 16 bit characters, used to mark the beacons within one pUUID. Apple recommends that, but of course, you can use those parameters as you will. Following recommendations is just easier.
Lots of gadgets, which use the same Bluetooth navigation technology are already on the market. But those have a couple of serious security flaws, we will get back to them later. Well, one beacon costs up to $30 and may works from a single battery for two years and many companies are updating their existing devices to support iBeacon. An interesting feature here is the fact that iOS devices can work as a beacon.
That's the first security problem, because it enables remote tracking of any iOS device without owner's notice. And as long as iPhones are pretty hackable, that can be achieved pretty easy. The only disadvantage of using that technology for tracking, the results are not really precise, so you will be able to get a raw location of iOS gadget.
In a matter of fact, the new API provides two new opportunities:
1. You can get a list of all the beacons in the working range of Bluetooth with a specified proximity UUID, you can specify your search request by specifying the Major and Minor parameters. API determines the distance to the beacon and the level of errors.
2. Region monitoring. When any iOS7 user gets into or leaves the area of a beacon it can transmit short messages to the user's device. So that's why tracking works both ways.
As you probably see, iBeacon may be used for many things, and the first one is indoor navigation, we can place the beacons in every room, assign them to have the same proximity UUID, different major parameters for floors and different major parameters for rooms. Also, using iBeacon we can organize interactive tours at galleries or museums. Just imagine – every showpiece has its own beacon, which uploads additional info about it, when users gets close.
Another option – is to use iBeacon for advertising, beacons will upload adds, when a user is near them. That may change the shopping as we know it greatly. You pass near jeans and get the message – “get two pairs and choose boots for free”. Also, the data collected by that technology may be used to determine shopping habits, and it won't be as scary, as mannequins with cameras.
As you've probably noticed, there is nothing revolutionary about iBeacon, but it may harm your privacy. In that case you will have to turn the Bluetooth module off, or use a Bluetooth signal jammer. We don't think that a couple of missed ads are worth your privacy. But the decision to use or avoid iBeacon is all yours!