Apple rollout virtual stalking in 254 stores

Apple has now rolled out iBeacon to all of it’s 254 US stores. The technology is based on Bluetooth and runs of every device running iOS 7 – iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch, to keep track of where people are in it’s stores. The location technology is used to gather more location information about shoppers in stores to serve them hyper-targeted deals or other product information as people walk around their stores or even past them.

At the moment Apple say that it requires users to enable Bluetooth on their device and give the Apple Store App permission for the iBeacon technology to work. It’s not been made clear IF your device has to be in ‘discoverable mode’ or not for this to work. But, as proven by Bluetooth hacking software such as RedFang, a device can be found even if it is non-discoverable.

The technology can be used to target users who might of missed the fact that they haven’t got the latest model of iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch by a notification pop up on their device telling them they might be missing out on an upgrade.

Imagine you’re in the store looking at an accessory; you could get a pop up saying “This device is wonderful, but it’s a shame that since you still have an old iPhone this isn’t going to work… You need a new phone for this! Buy a new iPhone.. Now!”.

Of course it could also be used to notify your turn at the genius desk is now, the on-line shopping you got is now ready for collection, your repair is done and so on…

According to an Apple spokesman “The technology is designed to only work one way, from the hardware to the phone. The hardware component emits a signal and the phone recognizes it, but nothing is sent back to the hardware”.

So, it will not allow a shopper to request more information on a product, or check models and prices… While the majority of the retail industry has already adopted QR and other coding schemes to provide product-level information. Apple’s “push only” information may be of limited use, in it’s current form: and let’s not forget this is also going to be competing with the existing Near Field Communication (NFC) technology which has already seen the light of day in areas such as:

  • Access control
  • Consumer electronics
  • Healthcare
  • Information collection and exchange
  • Loyalty and coupons
  • Payments
  • Transport

While the iBeacon technology could be extended to outside companies to give information at exhibits in a museum, trail information in a Park and so on it’s unclear if Apple will allow these third party apps.

Since, I don’t have an iPhone with iOS7, and I don’t leave Bluetooth turned on, I’m not worried about this new form of ‘virtual stalking’, and as yet there is no details of when this will be rolled out to Apple’s international stores.