Despite numerous advancements in technology and a whole research field emerging in ‘queuing theory’, airport security lines never seem to get shorter. Yet thanks to new technology installed at New York’s busy JFK airport that may be about to change. Or at least that’s the theory.
The airport rolled out a network of beacons to monitor line movement in real time. The system works by tracking travelers’ smartphones as they pass by the beacons.
Developed by Danish tech firm BLIP Systems, the technology detects mobile devices with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled and then follows them all the way through security and customs.
By triangulating smartphone locations, the BlipTrack system creates a bird’s-eye view of transit times, stopped times, and movement patterns throughout Terminal 4. 13 screens throughout the terminal display the improved wait times.
The system can also alert staff to problems. In a press release, BLIP stated that tracking makes the waiting line more responsive by notifying airport staff of bottlenecks “before they escalate.”
While JFK is the first airport in New York to get the technology it is already available in Amsterdam, Toronto, Dubai and Copenhagen.
Yet the technology comes with notable privacy implications. The system uses a unique identifier on mobile phones meaning the government now has a complete record of all travelers entering and exiting airports where it is installed.
Like most companies deploying creepy tracking systems the company insists that the data is anonymized and no personal information is recorded or stored. Yet the company does not disclose just who will use the data or for what purpose. Unlike retailers who use a similar technology the company does not offer a way to opt-out of the tracking either.
BLIP’s system relies on travelers to be as lazy about data security as possible. The more people with wifi or bluetooth enabled, the more data is collected and the more accurate wait times are supposed to be.
While BlipTrack may help identify airport bottlenecks, the system will not do anything to help when a rush of people all show up on a busy Monday morning or right before a national holiday, making its impact minimal during the worst airport rushes.
In short, BlipTrack seems like just another way to track and trace Americans without their knowledge or consent.