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Privacy issues become even more contentious when Bluetooth beacons are deployed. Can Location resolve the argument between the public, the privacy advocates and the innovators using beacons to engage their customers?

For proximity solution providers deploying Bluetooth beacons, navigating privacy issues feels like being stuck in an argument with your spouse, one of those arguments that you know you can’t win. It’s a high stakes debate, with conflicting signals on what is the right thing to do.

report published earlier this year by the Annenberg School for Communication found that 91 percent of people surveyed disagreed with the proposition that “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing.”

Yet with conversion rates of up to 60 percent when beacons are used to trigger offers, it’s clear that people respond to relevant offers that are delivered at the right time and the right place. Citizens are concerned about abuse of their data but love the experience that can be enjoyed when it’s used well.

It’s important to find solutions both with your loved one and with the users of mobile apps. Failure to do so can result in major emotional and financial distress on many fronts.

In the case of beacon aware apps, the stakes are higher than they ever have been. In addition to the existing issue of social media firestorms driving users to uninstall your app, there is the fear that public officials, scared of a potent election issue, will force whole networks of beacons to be uninstalled.

Scrappy startups may be willing to risk that, but in the “Beacosystem” these companies have to work with more established organizations that own the venues where the beacons sit, and these businesses are likely to be a lot more sensitive to reputational risks and the operational costs of installing and then ripping out beacon hardware.

This scenario is not speculative or an act of imagination, it has already happened in New York City. The parties involved had asked for permission but hadn’t got the right permission for the right thing from the right people.   When the press confronted the mayor about this privacy violation, he ordered hundreds of beacons that had been carefully installed around Manhattan to be decommissioned.

As more beacons are installed, this challenge is potentially going to get even worse. With web sites, it’s pretty clear that it’s up to the site owner to inform and gain consent from different users, but with beacons the ownership is less clear. The companies owning the beacon, the app and the venue could all be different.

Then we have the issue of wildly different attitudes amongst the public.

As someone that originally started writing about technology on a mechanical type writer, I am fine with a beacon being used to make a 911 call more precise so an ambulance can find me sooner (I’ve been feeling some chest pains thinking about the spousal argument), but I may feel different about an advertisement for TVs showing up, just because I spent five minutes hanging out in front of the TVs at Best Buy. The young person, who is used to Snapchatting pictures of themselves in a bathing suit and is sharing their whole life online, is more likely to find that retargeting experience to be very cool.

Let’s talk about solutions. Maybe the rejection of the information gathering described in the Annenberg survey was because it was done “without my knowing”.

So all we need to do is offer an “opt-in” to our users and let them know what we are doing.


No, the 1 percent doesn’t just describe the percentage of people who control wealth in the US, it’s also the number of people that read the privacy policy when downloading an app. Even if you paid people to read it, they would still be confused, especially when the full power of beacons are unleashed and multiple companies use a single beacon.

If we are going to avoid the argument that we can’t win, we need to take the high road, go beyond the expected and design our systems “with privacy in mind.”

See the remainder at GeoMarketing