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And, Your Exact Location in Your Living Room Is?

21st August, 2018 | Cyberprivacy | Entropic

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

In a previous article, we touched on the Google Titan Security Key, as an example of how companies are trying to extend the sensory reach of their devices, using Bluetooth LE (BLE) to gain better visibility into your lifestyle.

Companies that produce intelligent IoT devices for the home are increasingly being pressured to not only improve the usability and reliability of their products, but also to ensure they coexist seamlessly with other products from other manufacturers. This includes being more intuitive to their surroundings, including how they sense and interact with other devices and people.

Improving the sensory awareness and response of their devices can not only provide intuitive benefits to their customers, but also helps companies glean increasingly refined telemetry about how people move throughout their home, along with their activities in each location therein. The resulting data revenue can help them further refine their products and services, as well as generating revenue by making this data available to third parties.

GPS Is No Longer Enough

Consider your physical location as tracked by your smartphone, and how valuable this is to companies like Google who, for instance use it to provide you with critical information on traffic congestion in Google Maps.

However, the accuracy of GPS is limited, based on environmental conditions, and a GPS signal can be scattered and possibly lost through roofs, walls and other objects, making it less reliable when the object being tracked is indoors. Companies that depend on our data to generate revenue, need more precise visibility into our lifestyles. For example whether we are at home or away, or which rooms we typically frequent, along with the amount of time spent in each room.

IPS to Help GPS

Since the early 2010s, Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) have been evolving significantly, and are intended to as accurately as possible, reveal the location of people or objects within a building. IPS doesn't yet have an official standard, but has historically used a hodgepodge of different technologies including, optical, radio waves, magnetic fields, sounds, and other indicators from intelligent devices.

The introduction of Bluetooth LE (BLE), and related beaconing technologies such as Apple's iBeacon, has markedly improved the capabilities and possibilities of IPS.

While GPS alone allows a company to (roughly) know that you are within the radius of a specific physical address, such as "At 123 Main St", IPS can build on the capabilities of GPS by helping companies to know which room you are in within your house, and even where you are in that room. For instance "Near the Side Entrance of Your Living Room, 123 Main St".

Commercial Applications

Commercial vendors, such as Aislelabs, Locatify, Estimote, kontakt.io, and Accuware have historically provided software and hardware to help companies build solutions for indoor positioning systems. Privacy issues aside, these systems that can intelligently track people and objects relative to specific points in a building, have proven to be very useful for specific situations. Some examples include:


Consumer Applications

In the consumer world, households tend to naturally upgrade their older or broken appliances and devices over time, with ones which generally have more more intelligence. Recognizing this, and that their smart devices need to constantly improve their capabilities to be competitive, several companies have been adding BLE technology to existing smart devices that previously did not ship with this capability.

Devices that include Bluetooth LE can also include beaconing capabilities, allowing a device to advertise a special identifier to other Bluetooth LE enabled devices within range. The advertised identifier might indicate a physical location, so that an App that encounters this identifier can take a specific action when you move to a specific physical location. An example might be automatically turning on the coffee maker when you walk out of your bedroom in the morning, or automatically turning off specific appliances when you physically leave your home.

Without Beaconing

Without beaconing capability enabled, Bluetooth devices already have the capability to keep a track record of devices they have bonded with over time. For example, you could harvest historical information about the devices that you connect to on a daily basis, such as when your smartphone connects to your voice assistant named "Living Room", or when it connects to your car's Bluetooth system. This allows companies to build a basic model of someones home and their lifestyle, including for instance the rooms in which they have smart devices, how many cars they have, and when they arrive and leave from their home.


With Beaconing

The Bluetooth LE beaconing capability, such as Apple's iBeacon, or Google's Eddystone, helps to make it easier for smart devices to communicate with one other within a household, enabling them to track your changing physical range and resulting triangulated location in a building, with more precision than GPS alone. This in turn empowers the ability to garner more information about the layout of your home, and the activities within.

Tracking your Activity at Home

With Bluetooth LE in place on a given smart device, enabling the beaconing capability can be as simple as a device update. In fact, Apple already allows limited beaconing capabilities from their iOS devices.

As companies continue to slipstream Bluetooth beaconing capabilities into their consumer devices, and make them interact more efficiently with other devices, they'll be able to more precisely track physical movements throughout your household. Based on your movements combined with device information, it will be easier to distinguish between rooms, and how much time you typically spend in each one, essentially building a rough map of your home. A great example of how these devices might work behind the scenes, is Apple's existing ability to find your AirPods using a map.

While the introduction of Bluetooth LE beaconing into households can make our lives more convenient, it can also be used to more precisely track our position and activities over time, ultimately encroaching more on our privacy. The Bluetooth LE Mesh Networking protocol is another technology worthy of future discussion in the context of privacy.

There are currently several projects that are aiming to decentralize Internet connectivity using mesh networking, and tokenizing via blockchain technology. These initiatives promise better privacy, localized communication, and fault tolerance and are discussed in this article by Christina Comben, originally posted on CoinCentral.com.

If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions, please let us know.

Acknowledgements:
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash