Drones overhead in L.A.’s Valley are tracking mobile devices’ locations

by Barry Levine  |  published on February 23, 2015

It was only a matter of time before drones started monitoring signals from mobile devices.

Since early February, several small drones flying around the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles have been determining mobile devices’ locations from Wi-Fi and cellular transmission signals.

They are part of an experiment by Singapore-based location marketing firm Adnear, which has offices around the world. The firm told me that, to its knowledge, this is the first time an adtech company has employed drones to collect wireless data.

The capture does not involve conversations or personally identifiable information, according to director of marketing and research Smriti Kataria. It uses signal strength, cell tower triangulation, and other indicators to determine where the device is, and that information is then used to map the user’s travel patterns.

“Let’s say someone is walking near a coffee shop,” Kataria said by way of example.

The coffee shop may want to offer in-app ads or discount coupons to people who often walk by but don’t enter, as well as to frequent patrons when they are elsewhere. Adnear’s client would be the coffee shop or other retailers who want to entice passersby.

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