If you don’t think you are being tracked as you move around Target or Macy’s or even through a local museum, you must not have a smartphone. Many companies are now using beacons –or stationary devices that measure the movements of people carrying smartphones through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi transmissions, to understand the movements of consumers and build marketing campaigns based on consumer location. On September 23, 2015, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced that it too will join the beacon bus. Boston’s MBTA will start tracking public-transit riders using these beacons. Specifically, the MBTA will track users through Gimbal Bluetooth Smart beacons, so if you turn your Bluetooth off you should be out of range. Nevertheless, the MBTA said that it will not be collecting or using personally identifiable data, and it will also use a “secure, closed network” to track its riders.
The goal of this new tracking? The MBTA hopes to find ways to improve communications with riders and other MBTA technology. Additionally, and perhaps most concerning, it hopes to find out “how brands can increase engagement and interactions with commuters based on proximity.” This is just a pilot program that the MBTA hopes to roll out for a year before determining its usefulness and the potential for more effective communications.