A geofence is, in technical terms, a virtual perimeter that defines a
real-world geographical area. In more practical terms, this means that
users of mobile devices can be detected entering or leaving a particular
area via the GPS data from their smartphone or tablet. At this point,
they can then be contacted, via SMS message, email or through a web
Notable examples of geofencing
Google Local Guides app, which gathers data and
photographs from users, and in return alerts them to nearby events and
special offers they might be interested in.
Safety apps for parents that allow them to set up a
geofence for their children, ensuring they do not stray too far from
home without their knowledge.
Employee attendance geofences set up by businesses
around workplaces such as building sites, to automatically keep track of
which staff are present at any given time.
Shops and restaurants using geofencing for
marketing purposes. Usually to trigger an email or SMS message informing
potential customers of a special offer or new product when they enter
the vicinity of a retail location.
The last example of the four is the most common, and of particular
interest to businesses looking for a new way to directly market to
consumers. In conjunction with existing marketing research and
strategies, this can be a very effective way to increase sales volumes
by driving foot traffic to specific locations.
SMS was originally the most common way to drive sales through
proximity marketing. This has now been overtaken in recent years by
location-specific marketing web applications. Users voluntarily sign up
for these apps, giving their consent to push notifications and location
Geofencing and the law in the United Kingdom
While there are no specific laws written regarding geofencing in the
UK or EU, important aspects of it fall under existing legislation, and
anyone looking to utilise it for business purposes must be aware of
their legal and ethical responsibilities.
Geofencing raises serious issues regarding user privacy and consent.
The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) recommends the philosophy of
Privacy by design. Described as “an approach to projects that promote
privacy and data protection compliance from the start” – rather than an
User location data is a particularly sensitive issue in this regard.
It is important that gathering this information does not infringe on the
guidelines laid out by the 1998 Data Protection Act,
which amongst other things, stipulates that somebody’s data must only be
used for “limited, specifically stated purposes”.
This means that when designing an application involving geofencing,
you must clearly and honestly let users know what their location data is
being used for, and not stray from that original intention.
Next year, the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into
force, placing an even greater emphasis on user consent and disclosure
of what exact information is being held for business purposes. If you
are planning to keep past location data records to aid with future
marketing campaigns, then be sure to inform customers of this fact.
Opportunities and responsibilities
Geofencing can be a great way to keep track of staff, boost sales,
and inform customers of relevant information. But keep in mind that
ethically, you are entering into a contract with the end user, whereby
they are offered something of value for the use of their location data.
And that usage must not exceed the terms of your original agreement.
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powerful, cloud-based software platform, get in touch today.