Develop for Safety and Protect User Privacy through Geofencing

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Develop for Safety and Protect User Privacy through Geofencing

In this article, we discuss basic fundamentals behind security-best-practices for protecting user privacy with geofencing.

· Security Zone ·
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Do you allow your spouse or partner to track your location? Your parents? Your extended relatives? Your friends? 

Hyperconnectivity has lent a sense of normalcy to the concept of sharing locations with multiple applications and people with varying degrees of personal closeness (recall the not-so-distant past of Snapchat effectively mapping your friends and family).

However, amid the heated debate regarding who has permission to access and view user location data, it’s easy to forget that one of the main use cases for this “oversharing” of location data has been in the interest of safety.  

Acts of violence in the past months and years – such as recent incidents in Virginia Beach, Odessa, and El Paso – have fueled a growing willingness to appreciate the positive side of this data sharing as a worthy compromise. That’s where Geofencing APIs comes in. 

If you’re a developer, you know that anything (or anyone) connected to the internet and relaying a signal can be tracked. You also know that there are times when this is a good idea — for example, many people use tracking applications to prevent the loss of high-value items (asset tracking).

Unfortunately, the bad actors don’t rest on any day of the year, emphasizing the need for apps that use geofencing so that families, for example, can monitor the location of their most important assets, their kids. 

You may also like: The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Geofencing.

What Do You Mean by Fencing?

Geofencing APIs enable developers to create and customize a bounding box to fit users’ needs. This involves reporting, a distinct feature of Geofencing. Whenever a geofenced object leaves the bounding box, a.k.a. the “fence,” you can generate a report of the object locations whether they’re in the fence or not, or in any other fences that were set up. You can also check if the object entered or exited a fence by storing your object positions in the Location History API and using the Geofencing Transitions feature.

The item that is moving in and out of its designated boundaries can be anything from a large inanimate asset like a truck, tracked in the interest of theft prevention, to a personal object such as a phone, to a person. Or more accurately, a phone representing the movements of a person in real-time.  

As a visual example, below is one of our geofences created using our TomTom Geofencing API that allows developers to search for POI (Points of Interest) or geometry (that is handled by the Search API service):

How Geofencing APIs Protect Data 

An understandable concern about the idea of constant location updates enters the picture when we start talking about using a child’s phone as an active beacon, potentially available 24/7, 365 days a year. 

More specifically, a parent might be concerned about harvesting their child’s data and gifting it to nameless servers without knowing exactly what information is collected, and for what purpose. This is, again, understandable — children may not be aware of their data collection and ramifications but are treated essentially as equal individuals under GDPR.  

How could parents alleviate safety concerns, while doing the right thing in regard to their child’s data? 

Geofencing APIs put what data is used for your application’s actions, and how much, under full control of the developer. This means that the developer can opt to completely anonymize data and retain only what basic location points are necessary to perform desired actions. 

Conclusion: Developers Are Catalysts for Change

In this time of ethical data firestorms, developers are our catalysts for change. Only they know, at the code level, what data about users is retained versus what is necessary for the application to operate to its standards. Thus, the final decision of what data is processed, anonymously or not, lies with the person who built the application itself.  

Ultimately, as location data can be anonymized at the API level, it means that no one can ever see personal information of those utilizing these tools; the information is simply never included in processed data. 

Further Reading

web dev

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