Imagine you are a shopper who likes to save money and time on groceries. However, you also want to avoid crowded stores and long queues. Luckily, you have an app from Walmart that creates a virtual geofence around your nearest store.
This geofence, based on GPS technology, constantly detects your proximity to the store. If you are within this invisible boundary, the app will send you personalized offers and suggestions based on your shopping history and preferences. Alternatively, if you are outside the geofence, the app will remind you of items you may need or want to buy. This way, Walmart can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by providing relevant and convenient messages.
While Walmart is a notable example, other retail giants like Amazon, Target, Costco, and many more also use geofencing technology. Geofencing, with its various applications, has immense potential, especially in marketing and logistics. However, it also poses significant privacy issues if not used responsibly.
As we saw in our previous blog article, geofence is a technology that uses location data to create an invisible boundary in the real world. Typically, this technology relies on Global Positioning Systems (GPS), but it can also utilize other data signals such as cellular networks, Wi-Fi, and RFID. Unlike physical fences, you can’t see or touch a geofence, but it can detect your presence if you carry a connected device.
Think of geofences as similar to invisible electric fences used by dog owners, except without the shock. The technology operates on a device, selecting a series of nearby location points to establish an artificial boundary. It then connects to available networks, such as cellular or wireless internet, to exchange signals with other devices. If a device broadcasts its location near the boundary, the geofence can determine whether it’s inside or outside and trigger a predefined action.
While GPS provides our global location, geofencing focuses on our proximity to virtual landmarks, enabling digital devices to interact with the physical world in innovative ways. It allows users to define geographic boundaries without relying on physical objects or symbols. These boundaries can be specific lines or simply a radius around a designated point.
Geofencing technology has rapidly expanded its applications. For instance, Burger King used geofencing to target customers near its rival McDonald’s. Imagine getting a coupon for a one-cent Whopper within 600 feet of a McDonald's; you might pass it for Burger King. This type of marketing not only attracts users with low prices but also entices them to switch brands.
However, beyond marketing, geofencing has various other practical applications. Let’s see some of them:
One growing application of geofencing is bolstering information security. Like physical fences around perimeters, geofencing can help with the following:
Geofencing can provide an additional layer of security and convenience for users and businesses, but it also raises some privacy concerns. Users may not want to share their location data with third-party applications or advertisers, or they may be unaware of how their data is used or stored. Hackers may also try to spoof or manipulate location data to bypass geofencing restrictions or gain unauthorized access. Therefore, geofencing should be used with caution and transparency, and users should have the option to opt in or opt out of geofencing services.
While geofencing offers promising benefits, it also poses privacy risks.
Therefore, geofencing users should be aware of the potential risks and benefits of this feature and take measures to protect their privacy and security. Some of these measures include:
Apart from privacy concerns, excessive geofencing can lead to problems. Consider the example of a coffee shop or a retail store using geofencing to send targeted ads every time users walk by. While initially appealing, this setup could inundate users with excessive notifications. Moreover, users can sometimes circumvent geofences. If a user turns off GPS and masks their IP address with a VPN, geofencing may struggle to identify their location accurately.
Individually, your ability to opt out of geofencing may be subject to local privacy laws or the specific purpose of the geofence. However, you have a few options to limit when geofencing can track your movements:
As more devices join the Internet of Things (IoT), geofencing’s potential continues to expand. The infrastructure supporting geofencing is readily available in the age of smart devices, allowing anyone to leverage it for various purposes.
Additionally, as technology evolves, new, unforeseen uses for geofencing may emerge. While this article explores current adaptations, new ways to use geofencing could be just around the corner, bringing with it exciting possibilities, but it is necessary to consider challenges and adapt them to privacy boundaries.