Internet of Things beacons ‘need Facebook-style privacy settings’

Networking

by Joe Curtis| 25 April 2014

iBeacon rival believes people should be able to toggle security on their phones.

People being 'pinged' by Internet of Things-driven transmitters should be able to toggle their privacy settings as they do on Facebook, according to the manufacturer of a device to rival Apple's iBeacon.

The iBeacon and similar transmitters are set to be deployed in millions of shops and buildings across the world, as retailers take advantage of Internet of Things (IoT) technology to send personalised special offers to customers' smartphones via store apps.

The beacons will use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to accurately sense customers' locations inside a store, before pinging their smartphones with offers based on what products are near them as well as taking into account their shopping history.

The impending retail revolution has raised privacy concerns over how much data people must give up in order to benefit from personalised services, with experts generally suggesting companies should be transparent over what data they must collect and the benefits customers can expect.

Andrew Dark, CEO of Displaydata, a company behind a rival transmitter to the iBeacon, said transparency is "key", but went further.

When CBR asked him if customers should be able to alter their privacy settings like they can on Facebook, he said: "Yes, I think that's an important option. If the retailer gives you the control then you can feel comfortable it's been used for the right purposes.

"It could be that you don't agree to actually broadcasting your location within the store if that's something you think is sensitive."

But while Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was forced to defend the social network's personalised advertising this week, Dark believes customers will be happier to part with their data due to the advantages of personalised in-store offers.

"If I had the Sainsbury's loyalty app, ... I almost get a shopping list as I walk through the door," he said. "The app itself can pick up the beacons, know exactly where I am in the store, know what merchandise I'm in the proximity of, and offer me a one-to-one offer. I get something very personal that might be better than someone else's."

While the iBeacon technology is built into iOS7, meaning each smartphone automatically locates itself by using its own triangulating software, Displaydata's solution simply adds BLE technology into its own smart shelf displays.

Dark believes it beats the competition by offering longer battery life and extra capabilities, as well as a cheaper price.

"With our infrastructure we can monitor those beacons, trim the range [of their sensors], do all this for a retailer whose headquarters are in London and in real time checking and adjusting the performance of beacons around their whole retail estate," he told CBR.

"It really unlocks all of the possibilities of BLE and iBeacon are promoting but actually packages it in a way that a large scale retailer can deploy it."

Dark added that retailers with a 5,000 sq/ft store could get buy with just 50 or less beacons.

While he declined to comment on numbers, he claimed his company has been "indundated" with enquiries about the solution.

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