9 June 2015
- From the section Technology
Facebook has begun a roll-out of Place Tips – a system allowing businesses to send updates to a person’s smartphone when they are nearby.
Keen to get retailers on board, Facebook is sending out free Bluetooth beacon devices to firms that request them.
Other tech companies, including Apple, have experimented with similar systems.
One marketing expert told the BBC it is important the systems do not become “intrusive”.
Facebook has been conducting a trial of Place Tips in New York City since the start of the year, where more than 100 businesses have taken part.
Currently it only works with Apple devices, but a version that supports smartphones powered by Google’s Android operating system is being developed.
The social network has now announced it is rolling out Place Tips across the US, but has not said when it plans to bring the system to other parts of the world.
‘Fun, useful and relevant’
Once a business – such as a coffee shop or restaurant – sets up a beacon, it can detect when a Facebook user is within a set distance.
The beacon can then send “fun, useful and relevant” information into the user’s News Feed.
According to Facebook’s explanation page, this information could include content posted by friends in the same place, as well as popular menu items and upcoming events.
The page notes that the feature can be turned off.
Aaron Wachsstock, a digital content strategist at the Virginia-based Borenstein Group, told the BBC that Facebook would need to be careful in how it allowed information to be sent out.
“I can definitely see the potential, but I can also see how people could feel it is intrusive.
“If people get all these messages when they enter a store, they could view it as spam.”
Facebook told the BBC that companies would not yet be able to use the service to advertise, but that this position may change in the future.
The social network was also keen to stress that information sharing is “one way”.
“The beacons don’t collect any information from people or their phones or change the kind of location information Facebook receives,” the company explained.
Apple’s own beacon technology – iBeacon – is also currently being tested by businesses around the world, including a select number of McDonald’s restaurants and shops on London’s Regent Street.
At McDonald’s, special deals for chicken nuggets were pushed to customer’s phones as they entered the premises – resulting, the restaurant chain said, in a 7.5% increase in nugget sales in the 26 locations involved.
Mr Wachsstock said companies must be completely open about how the systems work. otherwise people would simply disable the feature.
“There is a lot of paranoia – people might wonder ‘who’s watching me?’
“As long as people are aware of how it’s supposed to act it should be accepted.”