Skyhook plays the beacon game, building context into its Wi-Fi geo-location platform

Skyhook Wireless has built one of the world’s largest databases of Wi-Fi access points, creating a geo-location network that can home in on Wi-Fi signals to pinpoint your smartphone on a map. Now it wants to use that technology to help developers design smarter location-aware apps and to help marketers better target their advertising.

On Wednesday, Skyhook – which is owned by [company]Liberty Media[/company] – launched a service for developers and advertisers to generate geofences within its virtual network and create user profiles consumers based on their location history. If it all sounds a bit like newly emerging beacon technology, that’s because there are a lot of similarities. Instead of an app getting a fix on your location by pinging off a Bluetooth Low Energy beacon, though, it’s using Skyhook’s map of Wi-Fi signals to figure out where you’re standing.

Skyhook demo

Skyhook’s technology draws not just on GPS and cellular tower data, but also the millions of transmitting Wi-Fi access points that surround us (Source: Skyhook)

For instance, if you enter a department store, that store’s app on your phone would wake up and alert you to the shoe sale going on the second floor. But since Skyhook’s geo-location capabilities aren’t tied to a specific business’s beacons, it can put a geo-fence around anything that might be relevant to a particular app – as long as there are nearby Wi-Fi signals to detect. So a ticket booking app on your phone could wake up whenever you’re near any movie theater and show you current film listing and screen times.

The profiling feature, called Personas, is just as useful to advertisers and invasive to consumers as it sounds. Skyhook can learn a lot about your behavior by detecting the fields of Wi-Fi you traverse through everyday and making simple inferences. It knows where you live and work by detecting where you park your phone from to 9 to 5 and from midnight to 7 AM. It knows the exact [company]Starbucks[/company] location you go to everyday for more your morning coffee, and it knows whether you have kids or a dog by the amount of time you spends at daycare centers or pet stores.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot an advertiser can do with that information, and Skyhook has conveniently mapped these different personas into different Interactive Advertising Bureau and [company]Google[/company] AdWords taxonomies, making it easier for advertisers to plug the right ad into the right phone.