Loophole in iBeacon could let iPhones guard your likes instead of bombard you with coupons

The iBeacon technology that Apple (s aapl)has implemented in iOS7 has retailers and others pumped about the internet of things pretty excited. The technology lets stores or people set up “beacons” that can talk to the iPhone, letting it know that you are standing next to a pair of shoes that you might like or that Starbucks (S sbux) wants to offer you $1 off your latte.

iBeacon demonstration example mobile shopping

But ReelyActive, a company that’s building out physical infrastructure to let devices communicate with their surroundings, has discovered a nifty trick in the iOS 7 code that lets its engineers flip the iBeacon model. Instead of the beacons talking to the phone, ReelyActive can make the iPhone 5s talk to its radios using Bluetooth, and potentially give iPHone users more control over how they interact with machines trying to sell them things.

The company details the trick on its blog and in the video below:


ReelyActive CEO Jeffrey Dungen isn’t sure why Apple has left this loophole in the OS, but from his perspective this is exciting. Dungen’s startup is perhaps a bit too far ahead of its time right now, in that it’s thinking beyond beacons to a fully connected world where a person’s preferences are communicated by their device and stored in the cloud.

With the iPhone’s ability to share data via Bluetooth and this code in iOS 7, he thinks it could start letting users have more control when they are interacting with beacons at first, but beyond that with other connected devices. For example, instead of the beacon near the shoes letting your phone know they are there, your phone could tell that beacon it’s not interested in getting an offer.

Even more interesting is if your phone walks into the retailer and tells a sensor that you are interested in a new pair of jeans. Outside of the context of shopping, the device might share data about a person’s preferences, so a restaurant automatically knows you are allergic to nuts, or a friend’s home knows you like the A/C set to a certain temperature.

Your phone knows a lot about you, so what would it mean if it could share that at your command with other smart sensors or radios in the environment as opposed to the environment trying to constantly tell your phone what it thinks you want? Using a standard such as Bluetooth LE (which is what iBeacon uses) and access to code in the OS to flip the phone from an information receiver to an information provider could be huge. Let’s hope Apple sees it that way.