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What is Google’s Project Beacon? - blog post image

What is Google’s Project Beacon?

Design Angler - Wednesday, August 08, 2018

If you own a business, you may have recently received a fairly bland-looking box in the mail from “Project Beacon” and wondered what it was all about? We received one just last week and had the same reaction. I mean, there is a Google logo on the box, so it must be legit, right? But what exactly IS it? The contents of the box don’t really elaborate much either, so let’s see if we can shed some light on it…

Let’s start with what’s in the box. A couple of leaflets (“Welcome to Project Beacon” and “Let’s get started”), and a small white plastic device shaped like a triangular tube with an adhesive strip attached to it. The white plastic device is the “beacon” and the leaflets are, well, leaflets. Oh, alright, they are installation and activation instructions and a description of how you might benefit from using the beacon. But who reads those things anyway? Now back to the fascinating white triangular tube… It’s a small, self-contained Bluetooth transmitter that emits a very low-power signal that your smartphone can receive when it’s close by. That signal let’s your smartphone know that you are physically in the same shop as the beacon.

So what is Project Beacon? It is a pilot project from Google that’s intended to help fine-tune the location-based services built into basically every smartphone on the market (iPhone and Android alike). Not only fine-tune the location, but also allow businesses to provide helpful information to people when they physically visit the business location. You can read more about Project Beacon straight from Google here, as well.

Fine-tuning the location… Typical location-based services provide useful information to you through your smartphone. This can be helpful when you want to find a specific kind of shop near where you already are, or decide where to go to get lunch or an espresso while you’re out shopping. But sometimes you realize that it’s just not as precise as what you’ve seen on the latest episode of your favorite CSI show. For example, maybe you visited a local jewelry shop that happens to be next door to a BBQ restaurant (let’s call it Bob’s BBQ). When you leave the jewelry shop, your phone chimes, and it’s Google Maps asking you to help your fellow human beings by reviewing Bob’s BBQ. While you like helping other shoppers as much as the next person, you have no idea if Bob’s BBQ is delicious or dreadful, so you’re probably not leaving that review.

Okay, so how does Project Beacon help with that? For starters, each beacon is uniquely identified and, through Google’s services, tied to a specific business. So, if your local jewelry shop installs the beacon in their business and activates it (per the instructions in the box), a signal is emitted within the shop (at least close to the beacon device) that is unique to that shop. Because it is such a low-power signal, it won’t penetrate the wall between the jewelry shop and Bob’s BBQ, so someone in Bob’s BBQ next door won’t receive the signal from the jewelry shop; and conversely, you won’t receive such a signal from Bob’s BBQ while you’re jewelry shopping.

That’s nice, but how does it help my business?? I’m glad you asked, because that’s where it gets interesting. Even if all you do is install the beacon and activate it, you benefit from its presence because it helps ensure that visitors to your business are asked to provide reviews, photos, etc. for your business, not the one next door. And reviews are important to your Google Business Listing, as are photos and other customer-provided content. If you own the jewelry shop, you want your happy customers to post reviews about your shop, and not be sidetracked by BBQ next door.

What about privacy concerns? Another great question! Privacy seems to be on everyone’s minds these days, and for good reason. The first thing to remember is that the beacon’s signal is one-direction only. It sends out a signal, but it doesn’t receive signals, so it doesn’t receive or store information from the customer’s phone. Think of it like a lighthouse along the coast, shining out a light to let sailors know where it is, but not knowing anything about any ships which may have seen its light.

That being said, if you have location services enabled on your phone (which you probably do by default), your phone knows where you’ve been, and by extension, Google (or Apple for iPhone users) likely also knows you’ve been to the jewelry shop. But the jewelry shop owner doesn’t get any specific information about you from the beacon nor from Google.

So, it’s a shiny new toy from the brilliant minds at Google that is free and promises to help your business get more reviews and interaction with people who visit your business.

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