Bluetooth Low Energy Data Transfer Technology

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Bluetooth Low Energy Data Transfer Technology
Short Title Bluetooth Low Energy Data Transfer Technology Allows Advertisers Target Users in Particular Locations
Location Global
Date 2010

Taxonomy Surveillance, Secondary Use, Increased Accessibility
Information Location, Computer Device, Behavioral
Threat Actors Advertisers using BLE technology

Individuals
Affected Users of devices supporting BLE technology
High Risk Groups
Secondary Consequences

BLE is a low power wireless technology used to connect devices with each other. The technology allows apps to transfer user data to third parties without users' notice.

Description

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology is a form of wireless communication designed in 2010 especially for short-range communication. It uses Bluetooth technology to allow beacon devices to communicate with sensors and apps, which is commonly used by businesses for proximity marketing.

The most common example of usage of Bluetooth technology for marketing is in stores. Although most location services use cell towers and GPS, these technologies have limitations and don't work well indoors (an advertiser can think you a person is in Walgreens, but they’re actually in McDonald’s next door). Bluetooth beacons, however, can track person's location accurately from a range of inches to about 50 meters.

One of the issues created by BLE is user Surveillance. The invention of BLE caused the creation of a network of beacon devices that give advertisers the possibility of real-time tracking of users whose devices support BLE technology (most smartphones from 2012 and newer support BLE technology). The technology allows to track individuals (e.g. for further use of the information in marketing) without them knowing.

Another violation, that can be identified here is Secondary Use: using BLE signal apps are sending user data to third parties, such as advertisers, who want to communicate to potential customers at the exact place and exact time. Users might not know and/or notice that the data is being collected and transferred. Third parties can use the data, for example, to aggregate it into large databases that sell to hedge funds, advertisers, and others.

Another example, when this technology can be used for malicious purposes is burglary, which is possible due to the Increased Accessibility of user data collected with BLE technology. In November 2019 criminals in San Francisco were using Bluetooth scanners to identify vehicles with phones, laptops and other devices with Bluetooth turned on. Having detected those devices, the criminals could then break into the vehicles to steal the devices.

Most people aren’t aware they are being watched with beacons, but the “beacosystem” tracks millions of people every day. Beacons are placed at airports, malls, subways, buses, taxis, sporting arenas, gyms, hotels, hospitals, music festivals, cinemas and museums, and even on billboards.

Risk Statistics

Laws and Regulations

Sources

https://themarkup.org/ask-the-markup/2020/04/14/will-googles-and-apples-covid-tracking-plan-protect-privacy
https://www.beaconstac.com/proximity-marketing
https://blog.beaconstac.com/2018/08/ble-made-simple-a-complete-guide-to-ble-bluetooth-beacons/
[https://siliconangle.com/2019/11/18/criminals-using-bluetooth-target-vehicles-valuables/%0Ahttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/14/opinion/bluetooth-wireless-tracking-privacy.html https://siliconangle.com/2019/11/18/criminals-using-bluetooth-target-vehicles-valuables/ https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/14/opinion/bluetooth-wireless-tracking-privacy.html]