Tag Archives: privacy issues

Proximity Services: Cool or Creepy?

I have been thinking about technologies that have not yet been fully realized. One that comes to mind is proximity services which has been talked about for at least ten years but is still in its infancy. The idea is that a beacon could send a signal to your phone through the Near Field Communications (NFC) and offer you coupons as you walk by a coffee shop or as you enter a certain neighborhood. In the same vein, if you signed up for a service, you could get notifications when other people on the same service are in your proximity—a high-tech introduction service, if you will. Also, there is the notion that you could use your phone as contactless currency, tickets, boarding passes, and metro fare. Privacy issues aside, some of these services are in place and working now, but we still have a long way to go to fully use the technology available.

Proximity Services

There are phones in Japan now on the FeliCa network that have an embedded chip that allows them to be used as currency or tickets or coupons. Such phones need only come into proximity of a beacon to complete the transaction and do not need to be turned on or have an app engaged. This could make queuing up for a large event quicker and more efficient.

High-tech meetup

Highlight is an app that lets you enter a profile, then will share it with others and let you see their Highlight profile. The caveat is that you have to be in the same proximity. This is like Match.com except if the signal is good you can actually see the other person before approaching them. Remember, however, that they can also see you, and I don’t know if it matches people by profile before it shares, or if it allows you to see everyone in the vicinity. This could be a great way to introduce each other at a party or a reception or conference. Google Glass will make this even better.


Another novel use of proximity service is the Zabcab app that uses a smartphone’s GPS sensor. A passenger activates the Zabcab app and a driver in the area that is also using Zabcab can see the request and respond. To make it effective, a sufficient number of cab drivers have to use the app, and perhaps this could be a differentiator for the drivers that are early adopters. If effective, this could replace the dispatch call or the competitive hand waving that goes on in large cities.


I think the reason why these services are not more widespread is that we are not yet comfortable with the privacy issues surrounding proximity services. Many of us are not crazy about having ads pushed at us as well. We could always turn off our phone but I think that there is a middle ground that allows us to make use of this technology to improve our lives while protecting our personal information.

Do you use other apps that employ near range proximity sensing? How do you reconcile the privacy issues? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.