Google Nearby: location-aware popup ads for location-aware apps

Google just used the offical blog of the Android team to announce a new Android component called Nearby.

Technically, it’s not part of Android itself, because it’s intimately connected to Google Play, which is proprietary to Google.

So we don’t think you’ll see the source code for Nearby in the Android Open Source Project any time soon.

Not that we think Nearby would be hugely popular in alternative builds of Android, because it’s all about pop-up ads.

Simply put, companies that want to advertise their apps or websites using Nearby deploy a tiny Bluetooth-based hardware device known as an Eddystone beacon.

Eddystone is a protocol devised by Google to allow advertisers to find and communicate with your mobile phone as you walk by.

If your phone can receive and process the “here I am” broadcast from one of these beacons, it can use the identifier that is broadcast by the beacon to fetch and display adverts.

The theory is that beacon-triggered ads of this sort will not only be relevant to your interests, but also pertinent in time and space.

The low power and range of Bluetooth transmissions means you’re guaranteed to be nearby (geddit?) to the beacon, and thus in range of the ad, both figuratively and literally.

One of Google’s examples of what it calls “a thing that can be helpful near you” is receiving popup ads for a well-known drugstore chain’s Play Store app…

…just in case you want to print out any of the photos on your phone at that very moment.

But every photo-printing outfit I’ve seen in the last decade or so already lets me print photos from my phone quickly and easily, without installing a special app.

What I stand to gain from installing yet another app in a case like this isn’t clear.

Similarly, Google suggests that:

The right app at the right moment lets you get more done. For example, at a store, you may want a barcode scanner to check prices and reviews for an item.

I don’t know about you, but if I want to get objective price comparisons before I buy an item, and to put myself in an informed position for bargaining, I do my price comparisons before I walk into the first shop.

If I suddenly realised that a price-check app is what I needed, then I wouldn’t install an app promoted by a popup ad paid for by the shop I was in at that moment!

What to do?

According to Google:

To use Nearby, just turn on Bluetooth and Location, and we’ll show you a notification if a nearby app or website is available. Once you’ve opted-in, tapping on a notification takes you straight into the intended experience.

In other words, it sounds as though simply having Bluetooth and Location enabled effectively means you’ve opted in to Nearby.

If so, turning off either or both sounds like your only easy way of preventing the popups.

It also seems that if you have Android 4.4 (KitKat) or later, you’ll automatically get the Nearby component sometime soon, when the next update to Google Play Service happens.

If there is a way of exercising finer-grained control over Nearby, we’ll let you know.

Have your say

An an interesing aside, the Eddystone beacon protocol is named after the Eddystone Light, a famous ship-saving lighthouse off the Southern coast of England.

Ironically, perhaps, the Eddystone Light’s beacon was designed to alert ships so they could stay away from the dangerous rocks on which it was built, not to draw them closer in.

But, then again, the first Eddystone Light was washed away in a storm, while the second burned down.

What do you think?

Is Nearby a bug or a feature?