In a pilot program announced Friday, Boston's MBTA is going to start tracking public-transit rider movements using beacons--stationary devices that measure the movements of people carrying smartphones, usually using bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
It's similar to technology used by retailers to track customer movements in store. In another example, a Boston startup, Cuseum, uses beacons to track people's movements through museums, providing data designed to help museum operators engage with visitors.
An important item on a number of front is provided by the following statement by the MBTA in their press release:
No personally identifiable information will be collected through this pilot program. Operating in a transmit mode similar to GPS, beacons cannot see, collect or store any personal data or consumer information. Beacons are transmit-only Bluetooth low energy devices that send out a signal that can only be used by user-enabled apps running on mobile devices to trigger location-specific content. In order for a mobile device to detect a beacon, a user must download an app that utilizes the technology and opt-in to allow the app to receive the beacon's signal.
While one of the objectives is to
"How beacon technology can be used to help the MBTA better communicate with riders"
another is to
"How brands can increase engagement and interaction with commuters based on proximity"
Will the communications really improve alerting riders to the schedule changes, or simply that someone has something to sell around the corner remains to be seen?
You can read the Boston Innovation article here
Note: the pilot supposedly started on Friday but what app is required to take part in this was not specified.
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