Nope. In fact, iBeacons create more privacy protection for consumers, not less. (In a similar way, Passbook creates more anonymity for consumers, not less). Here’s why.
First, let’s remember that iBeacons are exactly like GPS. They transmit a radio “ping” that your phone can hear. GPS satellites send a signal to earth, that your app can detect and use if desired. iBeacons send a signal through a room, that your app can detect and use if desired. The privacy or lack thereof for iBeacons is precisely the same as the level of privacy we’ve had from day zero with all smartphones.
Could an unscrupulous app developer use that ping to track you? Sure. But they have always been able to do so via GPS. It’s a tiny risk that most consumers long ago understood and accepted with a shrug.
Above all, GPS and iBeacons require your agreement; they are purely opt-in. If you don’t run the retailer’s app or accept their Passbook coupon, then iBeacons are meaningless and ignored.
But we said that iBeacons actually improve privacy...how is that? Because prior to iBeacons, retailers were beginning to dabble in technologies that really DO track you. They were using Wi-Fi signal trackers and the like, to track you when you enter the store. That is a bit more of a privacy intrusion, because you as the phone holder have no say in the matter; they could track you whether you opted-in or not. (I personally don’t care if they track me, but I understand very well why other people would care. If they do, then this point is important.)
With iBeacons, retailers now have a tool that will become a standard, that’s going to be well-accepted, that they can use very productively, that is fundamentally not a tracking tool. All this will help them resist the temptation to use more intrusive tracking tools. This approach will be tightly controlled by Google and Apple, who well understand their legal exposure in this matter and are being ultra-careful.
Some might argue with this assessment, but we believe that ultimately iBeacons (and as we’ve said earlier, Passbook) are both improvements in consumer privacy.