Large tech firms often toggle between loudly broadcasting the products they are developing, and doing so more quietly. The latter seems to be the case with some large-scale development of location-based services that at some point could also significantly impact the mobile payments space.
One especially stealthy development involves Facebook’s move earlier this month to give marketers more data about users who are in physical proximity to their stores – including age, gender and place of residence – and what percentage of these users have seen the company’s ads on Facebook.
No doubt the initiative is being treated by Facebook with a great deal of sensitivity, given the increased public awareness of, and in many cases hostility to, the collection and sharing of user data. So the data being shared are both anonymized and aggregated, and heavily limited in other ways as well. For now Facebook won’t even tell brands how many users come in proximity to their retail outlets, or how many enter the premises, instead focusing on trends over time.
A similar quiet surrounds comparable moves by some large phone network operators to offer brands and retailers certain location-centered subscriber data. The value of such data is seen as so high that some projections see the overall telecom data as a service (TDaaS) market topping $75 billion within the next five years.
Less discreetly, but still without much fanfare, this past summer Google released Eddystone, its open format for Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons. According to the company, the URL-based broadcast frame of the Eddystone format is the key to what it calls the “Physical Web,” the ability for users to interact with objects without having to first download an app. Like Apple’s iBeacon it is compatible with both Android and iOS, but unlike iBeacon it is open source, allowing outside developers and manufacturers to access and build on the code.
To an increasing number of observers, Eddystone represents the closest thing to a complete vision for a beacon ecosystem that has yet to emerge, and its URL-based approach offers the most compelling alternative to the QR code, which many agree is a technology that is destined to be improved on.
Either way, it is important to note that this round of development in the area of location-based ecosystems may be as consequential as it is quiet, at least compared to, for example, the much-hyped introduction of BLE beacons. Less clear is what the flurry of innovation will mean for mobile payments, though you can be sure that many in the space are quietly working to find out and capitalize on it, Cellum included.