Personal drones are once again a hot topic in the media, but this time in a not so favorable light. Recent events, like the drone that landed at the White House and the FAA’s proposed rules, have cast drones in a negative light. This latest news might very well sour the taste buds of the public even more. Several drones flying over San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles have been reported to be tracking smartphone and tablet locations. Their purpose? To eventually serve ads to mobile device owners.
The mobile device need not even send out location data. It just needs to be running an app that transmits data via cellular networks or WiFi. This alone can be used by the drones to determine the device’s location. That’s all there is to it for a drone to know where your device is. Granted, there is no personally identifiable information scrapped from this nor are any sensitive data extracted. But just the thought of a drone in the sky being able to know where your smartphone is located can already be scary.
The one small good news is that this is still an experiment, one that is being performed by Singapore-based ad company Adnear. The purpose, according to Adnear, is to help companies and merchants offer deals to both passersby who take a look at a shop but don’t come in. Think of it like beacon technology, except in the sky and without the need to communicate with the phone or tablet itself. It can also be used to beam similar offers to more loyal customers wherever they are. But if so, wouldn’t that require some form of identification for the particular device and customer?
The one thing the experiment doesn’t yet do is, ironically, serve up ads. But that could very well come later on. Adnear apparently has a lot of customers in Asia, which will serve as fertile ground for this kind of data collection and targeted marketing. And this is probably just the tip of the iceberg now that the cat is out of the bag.
Companies like Adnear are nothing new or extraordinary, but this case does highlight the potentials of drones, both for good and for ill. Researchers have proven how drones can be used for even more nefarious purposes, like hacking into wireless networks or pilfering smartphone data. These cases will hopefully also be covered by the FAA rules, without going overboard and actually stunting the growth of this budding industry.