Needed: Best (or At Least Better) Practices for Beacon Deployments

Everyone in the beacon ecosystem, from marketers to infrastructure providers to app developers, can find teachable moments in New York City's decision to pull a network of beacons from its phone booths.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Gimbal must ensure its partners foster trust with users, Hunter told me, "because otherwise, that is the death of consumer relationships." He noted that Gimbal has had to remove beacons from more than one deployment due to infringement of these rules.

Yet, all potential players in the beacon value chain—device manufacturers, software developers, retailers, transportation providers, marketers, city governments, schools, employers, the list seems infinite—ought to follow some basic codes of conduct.

Kevin Hunter
Last year, the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank that promotes responsible data practices, partnered with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer to create a code of conduct for companies that analyze consumer data collected via mobile devices. Approximately 15 analytics services providers have signed onto this code of conduct, which includes a list of what I consider sensible data and privacy practices. It also includes a mobile location analytics opt-out registry, which consumers can join by providing their devices' MAC address. Companies that sign the code of conduct must use this registry to no longer associate information about a signee's presence at a venue with the MAC address of his or her device.

But regardless of whether it is in a public or private space, what about the act of merely installing a beacon? Should New York City or Titan have initiated, at least, some public education to explain how beacons work, the role that applications play in their use, and why they were being deployed across Manhattan? I think so.

Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, was spot-on when he told PBS NewsHour, in a January 2014 interview, "We need to understand that privacy is a very subjective value, and that some people will be very sensitive about it, others not so much. We need to make sure that people who are highly privacy sensitive have tools at their disposal [to block location awareness technologies]. And other people, if they are willing to, can trade off their privacy in exchange for more convenience, better services, cheaper goods, whatever it might be."

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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