You can already, if you choose to, receive a slew of marketing messages and ads on your smartphone. Of course, you have to opt-in if you want the latest exciting news from Applebees, or custom coupons for Chinese-made tchotchkes from Walmart.
But what if companies could bombard you with private ad messages, because they know exactly where you're located and what you're looking at? Steven Spielberg depicted that dystopia in the underrated 2002 film Minority Report; Spielberg's tech adviser on that film was Bill Gates himself, whose Microsoft Corporation was working on the tech to make that film a reality even back then. (Hopefully, Microsoft is not also working on aquatic teen mutants who predict murders. The cars that drive up the sides of buildings were pretty cool, though.)
As with most things, Apple is light years ahead of Microsoft, and the Cupertino tech giant is ready to release the iBeacon, a tiny Bluetooth device that detects your iPhone or Android phone when it comes within close proximity, and blasts your phone with a marketing message.
This could be very useful in a place like an airport; you can receive all kinds of useful alerts from the airline and the TSA, alerts like "Your flight is behind schedule" and "We're confiscating your shampoo because you looked at your TSA agent funny." The technology will also be useful in shopping malls, hospitals, and large buildings, where iBeacons could transmit map info and direct you to your destination, even if GPS isn't working.
But it also means that the second you pass within 50 feet of an Old Navy, your phone is bombarded with ads for teen t-shirts and mom jeans. Suddenly, your iPhone has stopped working for you, and become an Old Navy employee. If you're smart, you check online for deals before walking into a store; but that's different from having every shop in the mall push bargains at you while you're trying to relax with a Mrs. Fields cookie in the food court.
In other words, imagine if that annoying junk mail you get in your physical mailbox could follow you around all day. Thanks, Apple!
It's likely this scheme would have an opt-out, or even an opt-in, option. But remember when signing up for a supermarket rewards program was optional? Technically, it still is — if you want to pay $20 extra per cart of groceries. Otherwise, you're letting a corporation track your purchases. The NSA wishes they could get away with that.
So it's likely stores will find ways to ensure you don't dare turn down their iBeacon spam.
The new technology works in iOS 7 and current flavors of Android OS. (If you don't own a smartphone, that's fine — you're probably too busy churning your own butter and shoeing your horses to care.) So prepare for an onslaught of ads, coupons, promotional videos, and flash sales — and expect text messaging rates to apply!