Data Privacy. Choosing an indoor positioning technology

This post is part of the “Choosing an indoor positioning technology” series. The series aims to help anybody evaluating and buying Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) to ask the right questions and make better informed decisions. This post focuses on Data Privacy. If you are only after the core message and evaluation criteria, you can skip ahead and simply focus on the bolded text. 

Series Background  

Choosing an Indoor Positioning System for use cases such as indoor wayfinding is often a daunting task. Complex technologies, foreign terminology and a large pool of vendors with varying value propositions can easily overwhelm anyone. Most companies will pitch you their solution or compare different technologies and their respective advantages and disadvantages. However, the truth is that the fit of an indoor positioning technology depends upon the use case you want to solve. Therefore, instead of pitching our solution and contrasting its performance to others, we thought we will give you a tool to evaluate different technologies for your intended use case. 

More specifically, we will present to you a range of suboptimal questions we see many customers ask and explain why they are suboptimal. Then we will present to you a set of questions we believe are more appropriate given prior explanations. These questions you should ask yourself and/or the vendor you are evaluating, in order to make a better decision on the solution you need.  

The wrong questions to ask about data privacy

The importance of data privacy has become increasingly important to consumers and hence, also for companies that provide products and services. For many IPS customers data privacy is as important as accuracy, reliability, and scalability, and rightfully so!

However, we have noticed that customers are inclined to make decisions based on the technology used for indoor positioning, rather than the actual data privacy implications. For example, solutions using sound or vision are generally perceived as more sensitive to data privacy concerns than other solutions. This ignores the fact that many of these solutions discard sensitive data prior to processing (e.g., ultrasound solutions automatically deleting frequencies in audible range) or have processes in place to anonymize data (e.g., vision solutions lowering the recording quality beyond identity recognition).

Furthermore, data privacy can be viewed as an exchange of value between an individual and a company. The individual is exchanging his/her data for a good or service provided by the company. Unless the value of the good or service is as high as the value of the data, the transaction will be viewed as unfair, and the consumer will not be willing to participate in the value exchange. Many IPS customers only evaluate one side of this equation, the data customers have to provide. They do not ask the customer to quantify the value of the good or service provided by the solution.

To correct for these perceptions and avoid making suboptimal decisions, IPS customers need to ask questions around data privacy beyond the technology that is being used.

The right questions to ask about privacy

Below are some of the questions that can help you to accurately assess the data privacy implications of an indoor positioning solution. This will ensure that you thoroughly evaluate the implications and the corresponding solutions:

  1. What data is required for the indoor positioning solution to work?
    There are a variety of solutions using different signals to position individuals and objects indoors. As mentioned above, sound and vision systems might seem more sensitive, but in practice are not. To really get to the truth, it is important to ask the next question.
  2. How sensitive is the data that is being recorded and can the sensitivity be removed?
    You should understand whether sensitive data is required to position an individual (e.g., sound vs ultrasound) and if the solution reduces data privacy risks (e.g., anonymizing during collection process or discarding of data prior to processing).
  3. How much data must leave the phone?
    Is the data being processed on the user’s phone or in the cloud? Understanding the data processing location will help you to assess any other risks. However, generally speaking if no data is leaving the user’s phone the solution itself poses no privacy risk. Risks might be introduced by other apps or the phone itself.
  4. Who is the owner of the data and who is the host of the cloud?
    For the use cases where the data must leave the users phone, it is important to understand who will own the data. That party will also be responsible for its security. If the data is hosted in the cloud, you should inquire who is the host of the cloud to further understand risk factors.  
  5. What is the value to the customer, and does it justify the data requirements in his/her mind?
    As described earlier, the degree to which a customer is willing to give up data privacy, depends on the value that the indoor positioning solution can provide him with. Therefore, it is important that you test your intended use case on customers either through random interviews or through a systematic user research process.

We hope that these questions will help you to better and more holistically assess and compare different IPS solutions when evaluating data privacy.


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