Trackables and Your Privacy

The latest tech craze in the realm of GPS mapping might be more of a timesaver than a world changer, but that hasn’t stopped customers from hurrying to jump on board. And anyone who’s been late getting out the door due to some misplaced car keys won’t have any trouble seeing the allure.

There’s a category of new devices on the market from a growing number of providers, and they make everyday life a little easier. These small tags come in different shapes, colors, and sizes depending on the manufacturer, but they all let you attach them to a typical object like your car keys, then track that object on your smartphone. Once you begin the search for the keys or the TV remote or any other small item, the tag may emit a small alarm (depending on the company) and will provide its location on the accompanying app through your mobile device.

Given their typical size, they can be placed on practically anything that gets misplaced easily. But some researchers are more afraid of the potential for harm and the loss of consumers’ privacy than the inconvenience of your child misplacing his lunchbox. First, there were the concerns over the lax security that some of the apps had. More importantly, as these tags rely on GPS coordinates for their location and sync to your device over Bluetooth to provide that data, it doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to think up some possible—although currently unlikely—scenarios in which your tracking tag can turn on you.

One of the chief complaints from researchers regardless of the manufacturer has been the open pairing with Bluetooth. Your smartphone might be paired with the tag, but what’s to stop someone in your vicinity (such as at the mall) from searching for Bluetooth devices on his phone, “forgetting” or removing your device, then pairing your car keys with his phone in order to track you. We’d have to ask ourselves why someone would want to do that, but we don’t have to wonder if they actually can do it because the answer is yes.

Researchers found other reasons for concern based on what type of device was being investigated, but the real takeaway is this: consumers have to be cautious about what can be done with any new technology before they sign on to use it. If consumers are aware that their objects can be tracked and are comfortable with any plausible or implausible risks, then they’re fine. But what we have to constantly safeguard against, though, is the not knowing. We cannot come to rely on a new service, technology, or concept without educating ourselves on its functionality, assessing any potential dangers, and determining our comfort level with the possibility of harm.

Interested in more cyber news? Check out the ITRC blog to keep you updated and aware of the latest topics and events.

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