A story hit the press this morning about a comapny installing Bluetooth beacons (in the iOS world, known as “iBeacons”) on phone booths in New York City. The fear is that these could be used to track users and send unwanted advertisments to their phones.

This article on Forbes does a pretty good job of explaining the situation, far better than the lengthy blog post I tried to write this morning (one really long post from me in a day is probably more than enough).

A very good quote in the article, which comes from Jules Polonetsky is that “beacons don’t track you; you track beacons.”

Beacons themselves don’t collect any data. They do not send marketing messages to your phone. They broadcast location marks that your phone and apps using your phone can take advantage of to understand more precisely where you are.

The fact is, beacons only do one thing – “beacon.” When a phone which has been configured to listen for a particular beacon (by installing a store’s app, for example) happens nearby, it hears the beacon and may react accordingly. Frequently, they’ll reach back to the app’s servers, which may then respond with a location-specific offer or other such “enhancements” to the “consumer shopping experience.”

Don’t want this to happen? Don’t install the app, or deny them the use of push notifications or location services. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any way to enable iBeacons within an app but to disable them when the app isn’t running, which seems like an ideal compromise.

Or, worst case, just turn off Bluetooth, except when you’re actively using it.