Have you ever wanted to know if a pair of pants on display on the other side of the store is on sale? If you answered yes, well, your phone can now alert you. A technology known as Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) is now able to keep track of you, with precision measured in feet, if you have an iPhone with iOS 7, and soon if you have an Android phone.
Apple’s technology uses transceivers placed in strategic locations. A retail store is an example. Beacons can detect where a user is standing. A retailer can then send a message to the user indicating that there’s a sale on a particular product that may be as close as a rack of clothes within grasp.
With this technology, when a customer walks into a store, provided he or she has downloaded an app, he or she will be welcomed to the store (or welcomed back) and informed of specials or personalized offers that might be available specifically for them.
Apple calls its version of this technology iBeacon. It uses low energy Bluetooth (Bluetooth LE), which is a new version of standard Bluetooth. While existing Bluetooth can run a battery down quickly, this new low energy version can run constantly at very low power – and for many years, since it uses a small watch battery as its power source.
This updated Bluetooth technology is being used for medical, sports, and home devices, such as, heart monitors and diabetes pumps, Nike devices that work with an iPhone/iPod/iPad, and will soon be used in home door locks.
But of course, there is a dark side to this new technology. Bluetooth LE, also called Bluetooth Smart, is hackable – and more easily hackable than standard Bluetooth devices. For more details about the device “Ubertooth” used for the hack, check out http://www.ubertooth.sourceforge.net.
The most dangerous aspect of this new technology can be found in medical devices. These devices include heart monitors, pace makers, blood glucose meters, and others that don’t need to send large amounts of data in constant streams but, instead, low amounts of data in short or continuous bursts.
Also, using them in home devices is a robbery waiting to happen. Anyone can throw a Ubertooth device into the bushes and grab your unlock codes when you leave or enter your home. Breaking and entering is no longer necessary if criminals can easily walk through your front door.
There are no solid encryption protocols in place for BTLE. Until there are, this technology should be avoided for devices that our lives may depend on. You can’t opt out of your heart monitor or insulin pump. Fortunately you don’t have to use BTLE to lock your doors.
The take-away lesson for all businesses – whether small, midsize, or Fortune 100 – is the same. Don’t adopt new technologies just because they’re new. The wise decision is to sit and wait for the kinks to be worked out, test thoroughly and for a reasonable period of time. Then when the kinks are worked out, go ahead and use with caution. NEVER add a technology that can enter your network at will and cause damage without thoroughly vetting it first.
Image Credit: Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.