Facebook piloting location-aware “Place Tips” in NYC

That line between FB and IRL? It’s getting pretty faded.

Last week Facebook announced a pilot project for a new feature called Place Tips, which populates your news feed with information about nearby businesses and landmarks. It’s being compared to Yelp or Foursquare as an engine for real-world discovery and sharing of friends’ reviews, photos, and other location-based content.

Place Tips draws on GPS, cell towers and Wi-Fi networks, as well as short-range Bluetooth beacons, to determine a user’s location and serve up relevant content. Sites involved in the pilot project include New York City icons like Central Park and the Statue of Liberty, and businesses like Strand Book Store and Dominique Ansel Bakery (birthplace of the infamous “cronut”, a croissant/donut hybrid).

While it may be fun to compare your best Brooklyn Bridge selfie with those your friends took last week, does anyone doubt that the real purpose of Place Tips is to find new ways to show us ads? The Wall Street Journal reports that while Facebook claims to have no plans of monetizing the beacons, at least one beacon manufacturer says it has spoken with Facebook about ways to measure the effectiveness of location-based advertising.

Facebook swears that viewing Place Tips content won't share your location with anyone, and that the company won't retain your location data. Users will be able to hide info from specific places, or opt out entirely by turning off Location Services in settings.

With competing systems already on the market from Paypal, Groupon (via their acquisition of Swarm Mobile), and a host of new entrants the retail in-store analytics and Beacon market continues to show strong growth. But this new battlefront for companies may come at the cost of an increasingly fragmented user experience and create a minefield of privacy issues for customers.

Related: Bluetooth Beacon Handbook