New research from Purdue University may have achieved a way for companies to send messages to smartphone users without prompting and without being on the same local network. The key? Motion-tracking cameras.

PHADE, or private human addressing, is envisioned for use in retail and educational settings like Amazon Go register-less stores or museums and would involve the user having an application from the venue.

Surveillance cameras covering a certain area would be able to track subjects through space and time to develop a packet of information conveniently known as a “tracklet.” The tracklets are compiled to form what’s basically an address code that gets broadcast out to receiving devices. The smartphone that the targeted user would be able to use its gyroscope, barometer and other instruments to match two address codes before it generates a pre-determined message perhaps for a sale on a specific item in a department or an exhibit in that sector of the room. Testing was done on a Galaxy S4, by the way.

Servers would not pick up any device data and would anonymize vector data from the motion-tracking cameras while retaining special character markers to form the address for broadcast — this means that hackers would need direct access to either source device to extract any important data.

That said, this sort of development can be built upon by more authoritarian actors and relies on the proliferation of motion-tracking surveillance cameras. And while users can opt out of messages in this demonstration, it also requires buy-in to the source company’s application or web applet.




Jules Wang is News Editor for Pocketnow and one of the hosts of the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast. He came onto the team in 2014 as an intern editing and producing videos and the podcast while he was studying journalism at Emerson College. He graduated the year after and entered into his current position at Pocketnow, full-time.

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