There are plenty of situations in which it's convenient for people to be able to receive sensitive data on their smartphones - one example could be a nurse at a clinic, who needs a doctor's office to email over a patient's immunization records. The problem is, those confidential records will still be on her phone, when she leaves work with it at the end of the day. A new system developed at Virginia Tech, however, offers a solution to that problem. It allows mobile phones to access certain data only when they're in a given physical location, and wipes that data from their memories when they leave.

The system was designed by a team led by Jules White, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. To create it, they simply modified the existing Android mobile operating system - exactly how they modified has not been stated.

Not only does the system keep selected data confined to one geographical location, but it can also be used to disable phone functions within one area. This could be used for any number of purposes, such as preventing photos from being taken in "no pictures" zones, blocking calls or text messages in areas where distractions aren't wanted, or to keep teens from "sexting" one another, by blocking outgoing messages with attachments from the home.

The technology could also have military applications, as generals could use their phones to access classified information while visiting a secure government facility, without having to worry about that phone later being lost or stolen. Phone-toting spies would likewise not be able to obtain any images within that facility.

"There are commercial products that do limited versions of these things, but nothing that allows for automating wiping and complete control of settings and apps on smart phones and tablets," said White.

At this point, there is no word on when the Virginia Tech system may be ready for general use.