Apple has applied for a patent covering its iBeacon system, the poorly understood network it wants to build that might help it create maps of the inside of buildings or send ads to your iPhone as you walk past store shelves.
While the existence of iBeacon itself is not news, the new application is interesting because it gives us more detail — and a lot of diagrams — on how Apple believes marketers ought to use the iBeacon network, how it can track iPhone users with a “Universally Unique Identifier,” and the information it collects about you that can be used for targeting ads at you.
In other words, we now have a lot more information on the potential scale of iBeacon as Apple’s vast shopping surveillance network.
iBeacons are simply beacons that transmit low-range Bluetooth signals. They are generally small plastic boxes or containers that you can leave anywhere. Their signals extend only a few feet. If you walk past one, the Bluetooth function on your phone can detect a ping from a nearby iBeacon. That ping can be used to activate an app, message, or notification on your phone. The obvious example of this would be, if you walked past Starbucks and an iBeacon in Starbucks pings your phone, the Starbucks app on your iPhone might offer you a 10% discount on coffee if you enter the shop in the next 5 minutes.
This beacon is made by Bright:
The new patent application shows that Apple believes there is almost nowhere iBeacons can’t go:
This is Apple’s diagram of a typical iBeacon setup:
The system can detect whether you are near or far from a beacon, and send you a different message depending on the distance:
Here is how that might look to an iPhone user:
Managers can then track the results on a dashboard like this:
The system has the potential to collect information about iPhone users, including their home addresses:
But Apple expects companies to handle that data responsibly:
And also it wants to let people opt out of having their data collected:
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