Pando

This company wants to use drones to track your location through WiFi

By Nathaniel Mott , written on February 24, 2015

From The News Desk

Here's another reason to appreciate the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed limitations on when, where, and how drones can be flown: a company called Adnear has tested drones that gather information about consumers through WiFi networks.

It works by monitoring the unique identifiers a smartphone offers whenever it looks for WiFi networks. Adnear can use those identifiers to display advertisements based on someone's current location, observed habits, and other collected information.

All of this is easily accomplished with sensors installed on vehicles, buildings, and other ground areas. But, as Adnear explained to VentureBeat, using drones could allow it to gather consumer data from places where installing sensors is unfeasible.

Adnear says these drones wouldn't collect personal information, take photos, or shoot videos. (Apparently someone's location, combined with their daily routine, doesn't qualify as personal information.) It's "just" snooping on some smartphones.

But I'm not a fan of for-profit surveillance. Nor am I particularly keen on living in a world where every person, business, and government is flying drones over my head. Adnear has gone ahead and combined both of those sins into one project.

Besides, this probably isn't the only company that wants to use drones for ads -- does anyone really think Google and Facebook are using drones, satellites, and hot air balloons just to be nice? -- and others might care even less about consumer privacy.

So I'm glad the FAA wants to stop businesses from flying drones over our heads. Amazon and the rest of the tech industry might not appreciate those rules, but preventing unwanted snooping -- as well as cranial injuries -- makes them alright by me.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]