Bluetooth Beacon Technology Raises Privacy Concerns

What Is Privacy Anyways?

Privacy is a hot topic these days. The rise of social networking services has brought data privacy concerns to the attention of both the public and the government. Data privacy refers to, “The right of mandating personal privacy concerning storing, re-purposing, provision to third parties, and displaying of information pertaining to oneself via the Internet.”  

Bluetooth Beacon Technology  

The rise of Bluetooth Beacon Technology is likewise causing waves. Bluetooth Beacon Technology refers to a small Bluetooth radio transmitter, powered by batteries. These small devices transmit Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals. Smartphones with Bluetooth enabled will pick-up and display these signals. This technology is significant for retailers who can now deploy a Bluetooth Beacon at their store-front, and broadcast advertisements and notifications directly to the smartphones of passersby. For example, if you own a vape shop, you could send text messages promoting new flavors or deals to people walking by your shop!  

Privacy Concerns Surrounding Bluetooth Beacon Tech 

Bluetooth Beacons do not collect data, so why are there privacy concerns surrounding the technology? The answer is that though beacons themselves don’t collect data, a beacon app is usually involved. This changes things, as these apps function by communicating with beacons and generating data. When paired with an intelligent app, suddenly you’ve added meaning and context to a beacon. Data can now be collected that pinpoints the exact location of the consumer. If a governing body, organization or even an individual wanted to find you, theoretically, they could leverage this data to do so. Thus, the privacy concerns.  

GDPR Privacy Requirements for Beacon Apps 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets rules for data protection and privacy of individuals within the European Union, and these rules affect North American policy as well. According to the GDPR, you are legally required to inform smartphone users what data you collect, the purpose of that collection, how long data is stored and who will use it. Simply put, if you are using an app paired with a Bluetooth Beacon, you need a privacy policy in place.  

In addition, there is the question of location data. Should shop-owners be allowed to collect this data at all? At the very least, an app should require the user to approve the collection of location data. Many beacon apps go about this ask by making it clear to the consumer that location data is a useful tool. However, users can always opt out of the collection of location data.  

The Future of Beacon App Privacy Laws 

The rules surrounding Bluetooth Beacon Technology and apps vary depending where you are in the world. In the US, companies must comply with regulations set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC enforces the prohibition of “unfair or deceptive acts.” In Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) sets the rules for how companies can collect, use and disclose personal data. PIPEDA specifies that organizations “must obtain an individual’s consent when then collect, use or disclose that individuals personal information.”  

In brief, these rules mean that when using beacon technology, it’s important to keep consumers in the know. Bluetooth Beacons present a fantastic advertising opportunity for shop-owners, but only if the privacy of consumers is respected. Consumers need to be made clear on what this technology means and what it has the power to do.  

To drive our earlier point home, it’s essential that retailers use this technology responsibly by ensuring consumers are informed on what data is collected, why, how long that data is saved and who has access to it. It’s up to retailers to inform consumers of the many benefits of beacon apps, while also ensuring they know exactly what the technology means to their privacy.  

VanGo’s Two-Cents 

At VanGo, innovation excites us. Bluetooth Beacon Technology is the latest innovation in advertising, and when used responsibly, we think it can be an amazing tool. Vape shop owners can use this tech to attract and engage customers in a personal way, and there’s a lot of power in getting personal. Our phones are such an integral part of our lives, and we might not check all our emails anymore, but we certainly check our text messages! 

Our advice to vape shop owners looking to invest in a Bluetooth Beacon for their store is just to be transparent. Tell the consumer exactly what you’re doing and why, and you shouldn’t run into any troubles.  

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