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Privacy threats based on digital technology are increasing, so why not use digital technology to combat them? Geofencing uses GPS to define geographical boundaries, and can prove very useful in managing your personal security.
From telling drone manufacturers you don’t want their devices flying over your house, to setting up Flickr to share photos from a given location only with people you trust, there are many ways you can use geofencing to take control of your privacy.
What Is Geofencing?
Geofencing relies on the global positioning system or an RFID tag and enables the user to create a virtual barrier or zone. This might be used by businesses to highlight special offers as you visit the local shopping mall (requiring, of course, your consent!) or by law enforcement agencies to manage to position of an ankle tagged individual under house arrest.
Geofencing might be found in the workplace, too. Those passcards you need to enter rooms and specific buildings at work? Another example of geofencing, one that probably alerts your organization’s security should anyone try to access a restricted or unauthorized area.
These examples each specify ways in which geofencing is used by other parties. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to use this technology ourselves? We can! By specifying parameters with geofencing systems, we can better manage situations in which our privacy or security might otherwise be threatened or misused.
No Fly Drones
Perhaps the most interesting use of geofencing is to manage where drones can and cannot fly. You may be aware that drones are one of the hottest new technologies, with their use ranging from low-cost aerial photography to potentially delivering parcels from Amazon.
Here’s an example of some aerial photography revealing something that was definitely a secret at the time:
(Keep your eyes on the right side of the frame.)
This sort of observation can be restricted by employing a service called NoFlyZone, which enables you to enter your address and email address which will be added to the free service. The idea is that drones will use the data and avoid your address. As the website says:
“Private property location information will be included in NoFlyZone’s comprehensive airspace database provided to participating drone companies. This database includes civil and military airspace, airports, hospitals, schools, and other sensitive locations.”
We’ll be honest: NoFlyZone isn’t perfect, and it is completely voluntary for the drone manufacturers. Additionally, should you purchase a drone then you’ll need to remove yourself from the list, lest you run into problems with your device. NoFlyZone is, however, a step in the right direction, and given the proliferation of zones over the past few years in North America and Europe, it would make sense for some government legislation to be introduced to manage their use (although in the UK drone use is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority, which has issued guidelines). Until that happens, opt-in geofencing seems to be the best option.
We’ve recently learned that domestic drones – those bought from hobby stores for use at home or out in the countryside – can be hacked and hijacked by a third party. Given how easy this seems to be, it would seem that drone manufacturers need to spend a lot of time making their devices far more secure, and adhering to their responsibilities as responsible businesses.
Protect Your Photos on Flickr
Geofencing can be used in less obvious ways to protect your privacy. Since 2011 Flickr has offered users a geofencing system to manage the privacy of their photos. The idea is simple: by geotagging locations on photos, images can be grouped together. All you have to do then is assign who can see those images.
For instance, photos of your home can be geotagged, and then access to those photos be limited to only the people you trust.
If you use Flickr, it would be a good idea to start using this feature.
Geofencing Can Protect Your Phone From Thieves
Avast Anti-Theft is an Android security that performs some of the same functions as the popular Prey multi-platform device tracking app. What Avast Anti-Theft has that Prey doesn’t, however, is the ability to set a geofence.
This can be useful when you’re out, perhaps socialising in a bar or café. If you’re prone to leaving your phone on a table rather than keeping it on a pocket, then setting Avast Anti-Theft’s geofencing option can protect your device from theft.
All you need to do is specify an action – such as locking the phone, activating a siren, sending location details to a friend, for instance – and a perimeter, and the app will take charge. As soon as someone takes your phone beyond the specified perimeter, the alarms will sound. Obviously we would recommend you keep your phone close at all times, so only use this sort of tool as a backup.
Avast Anti-Theft is currently only available for Android and as yet I haven’t been able to find a comparable service for iOS.
Do you know of any other ways in which geofencing can be used to protect your privacy and security? Share your suggestions and ideas below by leaving a comment.