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Industry News 03/03/2019

Why Has Google Sent Me a Beacon?

Google Beacon Alert Walking Past Coffee Shop

Businesses have started receiving a small package from the friendly megacorporation that controls access to their websites. The Google Beacon is a free device that, once activated, will display the location of (and any relevant advertising for) your business on the phones of people who may be interested and happen to be nearby. 

I’m already familiar with beacons, they were lit all along the South Coast to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588. (I’m available for pub quizzes).

Wrong kind of beacon. Google are sending businesses small devices – called ‘beacons’ – that can provide a reliable and precise location identity to passers-by. 

The obvious question is ‘why?’

Deploying this technology will allow you to advertise to people. It’s the digital equivalent of putting an A Board at the end of the street directing people to your coffee shop.

I’m always tripping over A-boards declaring that “A yawn is a silent scream for coffee.” – if this technology does away with A-boards, I’m in. How does it work?

Google Beacons are incredibly simple devices: they broadcast data using Gaussian frequency shift modulation at a bit rate of 1Mbit per second in the spectrum range 2.4-2.4835 GigaHertz. 

I wish I’d never asked… 

All you need to know is that beacons can be attached to a location or an object from which they repeatedly broadcast an identifying signal that can be picked up by nearby smartphones, laptops and smartwatches. They basically scream “I am here!” over and over again. Fortunately, they can only be heard by smart devices that are listening.

My smartphone isn’t very smart, it’s always inviting me to review museums it thinks I have visited when actually I was in the pasty shop next door.

Beacons are intended to make this kind of location mapping more accurate.

How long has this been going on?

Beacon technology has been around for a few years, but they pretty much worked on a single app, single beacon basis. You needed to have the relevant app downloaded to ‘sniff the beacon’ (Google’s terminology). With its current programme of distributing beacons to all the ‘places that matter’ (also Google’s terminology) Google is putting in place an infrastructure that can broadcast to anyone with an android or iOS operating system.

I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but will my beacon be spying on me?

Unlike the Google Home devices people install in their homes, beacons are not listening devices and they are not connected to the internet. Apps that connect to beacons may ask you for the usual access permissions – but you always read these before installing any app, don’t you?

So, should I activate the beacon?

We think it would have been nice to have been consulted before being sent one. But, yes – this is the way things are moving. Supplying accurate location data to your customers and clients is essential and if it makes a tiny diminishment in the scourge of pavement coffee shop A-boards, we are all winners.

RWD is a website design and digital marketing company based in Norwich – if you would like to use our services, call 01603 632552 or email