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Indoor Navigation with Pinpoint Precision: The Better to Track You via Smartphone

The next privacy storm brewing is coming soon to a mobile device near you. While location-based services are extremely convenient, pinpointing a person's precise position while indoors has been iffy. But if you carry your smartphone into a retail store, you are leaving behind 'fingerprints' and 'digital bread crumbs.' There's billions of dollars to be made by tracking people inside buildings, the better to data-mine patterns of behaviors and throw personalized ads at consumers. Tracking us indoors will tempt marketers, app developers, government and other law enforcement agencies.

Location, location, location . . . Gartner Research predicted the market for location-based services will reach $8.3 billion in 2014. While "highly accurate outdoor navigation with continuous updates once per second is commonplace," navigating inside brick and mortar buildings with location-based services (LBS) has been iffy when it comes to pinpointing precise position. There's billions of dollars to be made by tracking people inside buildings, the better to data-mine patterns of behaviors and throw personalized ads at consumers. Despite the privacy risks of any LBS, the convenience of indoor navigation will tempt people as well as marketers, app developers, government and other law enforcement agencies. Using mobile devices for navigating indoors will add another tracking kink to be overcome by privacy advocates who claim privacy is a fundamental right.

If you are inside any retail building, such as mall, you no doubt tote your smartphone around with you. This leaves 'fingerprints' of where you are going, "creating patterns of behavior - a virtual data boom and no one is tracking it," reported Forbes. Indoor tracking with "pinpoint precision" is not inherently evil and could even help save lives such as tracking firefighters where GPS fails. Homeland Security's S&T Directorate is "pushing this location technology to even higher accuracy and maturity levels with its Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders (GLANSER) program."

Yet such indoor tracking is also attractive to law enforcement. The FBI is keeping an eye on Microsoft as it designs a mobile device that can create a path of 'digital bread crumbs' by collecting "trail data while a user walks indoors, underground, and in other spaces where GPS signals are not available or are too weak to be picked up like multi-level parking garages."

Then there's Qubulus which developed the QPS Positioning Engine to generate an accurate, indoor position in less than a fraction of a second and with an accuracy of three meters for Android devices. It uses Radio Fingerprinting technology "because every physical spot in the world has a very unique radio signature. When you move, even a few meters, the radio signature you experience is slightly different." Frank Schuil, Qubulus Founder and CEO said, "There is still a location gold rush in getting down to store and aisle level that can power the future of advertising." 

But Wi-Fi fingerprinting is expensive, according to Scottish firm Sensewhere; it further claimed cell-ID positioning in only accurate to 300 meters, Wi-Fi positioning from wardriving is only accurate to 80 meters and GPS doesn't work well indoors. The company's "self-correcting" and "crowd-mapped" Sensewhere location-sensing network "will allow for quick and low-power situation of devices to within 5m by forming a sort of constantly updated mesh of self-aware devices."

The list of indoor navigation resources that deal with mapping, positioning, service providers and indoor LBS standards continues to grow.

In 2011, CSR announced SiRFstarV chips for smartphones that work on SiRFusion location platform. "The result is high availability and accuracy for positioning and navigation outdoors, in urban canyons, in parking garages, and indoors in shopping centers, airports, convention centers, and other pedestrian areas." By combining GPS and Wi-Fi positioning, SiRFstarV can pinpoint you indoors within 10 meters. The company demonstrated "reliable pedestrian dead-reckoning" at Mobile World Congress 2012.

And now, according to Android Authority, "getting lost is not an option" if your smartphone is equipped with a new Broadcom GPS chip. The BCM4752 chip uses "four different satellite constellations: GPS, GLONASS, QZSS, and SBAS" to "provide access to the 59 satellites currently in orbit." Broadcom claims its new chip "performs 10 times better than competing products when it comes to acquiring position." When it comes to navigating inside, the BCM4752 chip will tap "into the other sensors of the phone (NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, radio)."

Broadcom promises to not only pinpoint what building you are in, but also what floor you're on. Technology Review added, It "promises to indicate location ultra-precisely, possibly within a few centimeters, vertically and horizontally, indoors and out. It can receive signals from global navigation satellites, cell-phone towers, and Wi-Fi hot spots, and also input from gyroscopes, accelerometers, step counters, and altimeters." The company also intends to integrate data "from a source that is not yet commercially deployed: Bluetooth beacons."

Cell Phone Jammer reported it will be neither easy nor simple to prevent such smart tracking. "You may jam the signal of new Broadcom BCM4752 tracking microchip by utilizing a mix of GPS jamming devices, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth jamming devices, and in addition you have to block the NFC signals." However there are no promises that such jamming will be legal.

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