Keeping track of people with beacons: Privacy, relevancy and optimisation


Recently we’ve been talking about using beacons to track assets, but it’s worth remembering that in many cases, the most valuable asset might be a person.

When we talk about tracking people, there are often some concerns about privacy involved, so I thought I would look at some of the situations where you might want to track people (either anonymously or specifically) and address these issues.

Privacy Concerns

Let’s talk about privacy first of all. While it is an important and understandable concern, it is worth remembering that attitudes around tracking are evolving. In many cases, online users are willing to trade a small piece of personal data (an email address for example), in return for information.

What matters here is making sure that the information or service you are providing is relevant enough. In order to collect this information, you will need not only to clearly inform the user about what information you need, but also where you plan to use it, and what they will receive in return.

It’s also worth mentioning that beacons themselves are fairly passive devices. They cannot transmit any information at all to your phone without explicit permission. In most cases this involves allowing an app to receive messages and send push messages, as well as enabling Bluetooth.

While some efforts are being made to address the need for an app (and Bluetooth devices like fitness wristbands often come with appropriate software pre-installed), it is still the default for most devices. This brings us back to relevance and value again. Points of friction are best addressed by providing something genuinely useful.

This is actually a microcosm of the wider mobile commerce market, where many businesses invest in a mobile site to initially attract users, before attempting to ‘upgrade’ users to a dedicated app to increase ‘stickiness’ once they have already proven value. For now there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this, as value changes from business to business. It’s one of the main reason we offer consultation services for our customers, so that we can learn more about the specific needs of customers.

Use Cases

As mentioned, there are a number of reasons you may want to keep an eye on people, and it’s important to remember that it doesn’t need to be a Big Brother-esque scenario. Simply anonymously tracking devices as they enter and leave areas can add enormous value. Here are a few different use cases:

Optimising workflow

In previous posts I mentioned that tracking assets could speed up the flow of goods from warehouse to store. The same is true of people. Ever booked a taxi to the airport, and then waited for your delayed departure? Think what you could do with the spare time (Duty Free is calling your name…).

In a business situation, it shouldn’t be used to ferry staff around like drones, but knowing where I need to be, and when is extremely useful. If a delivery is running late, then I can prioritise other tasks to fill in the lost time. If a task requires a set amount of time to complete, then my progress can be monitored. It can cut down on a huge amount of wasted time and allow me to more efficiently organise my own day.

Building better environments

One of the easiest beacon implementations is simply tracking the movements of devices around a space. With a management system like superHub, it’s easy to see where people enter, how long they stay, and where they hover.

Which in-store displays are attracting the most attention? Are customers spending so much time in the dairy aisle because they love looking at the cheese, or because they can’t find the eggs easily?

Using_beacons _in_warehouse

Keeping track of their movements and interactions is entirely non-intrusive, but allows you to optimise your physical space – be it supermarket or warehouse – so that people can easily find items, and also keep moving during busy periods.

Renting devices

Recently a couple of the blueSense team visited the Barbican in London to try out Edgelands, an interactive experience which uses our beacons to showcase the building’s unique history and architecture (Look out for more on that in a future post). Before we began though, I realised I had forgotten my headphones.

Luckily I could rent some from the shop. Unluckily it involved handing over my drivers license and making a cash deposit (They were very nice Sennheisers, so I appreciate why).


It is possible however, to avoid this. Thousands of museums, parks, zoos and attractions now offer experiences with an audio-visual element, and hand out dozens of iPods, tablets and headphones to go with these. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just take one without needing to fill in the paperwork. This actually works for all kinds of items, from headphones to bicycles, with your personal device linked to a specific device that can be easily tracked.

Tracking children in public spaces

There is also a safety element involved in tracking people. We’ve talked before about shopping malls using beacons for wayfinding, providing maps that point out key features. While this is useful for adults trying to find their own way around, it may not be quite as useful for children.


Several large malls are now experimenting with beacon tracking for wristbands, meaning you can easily keep an eye on your children, even if they have been distracted by the enormous M&Ms display and run into a shop they shouldn’t have.

This also works for themeparks, zoos, and all kinds of complexes where many people need to be safely identified and guided.

Meetups and networking

Finally, what kind of marketer would I be if I didn’t mention networking? In the past I’ve worked with events that have used apps and RFID to track users, but beacons can actually offer a much wider experience with a much higher level of personalisation.

They can easily supply you with live information on who else is in your vicinity so you can optimise your networking time, and allow vendors to know when important clients are using their stands. In the past this kind of data has relied heavily on word of mouth feedback, but with beacon tracking you would be able to identify exactly who had visited which booth or conference session throughout the day.

Finally, there is also the added bonus of providing live information on the event itself – knowing which sessions are starting and finishing is a huge boon, as is automatic check-in to events.

Keeping track of people can provide us with a huge amount of new data, which in turn should allow businesses to optimise their own efforts internally, and provide far more relevant messages and experiences for users. If you’d like to know more about tracking, check out our proximitySense platform.

Matt Owen