Google is said to be working on a new Android feature that allows phones and tablets to automatically connect with devices and places very close around them, according to Android Police.
The feature, called Nearby, might allow people to easily share information with others or receive deals from stores that they’re in. Nearby will reportedly be announced in the near future — possibly at Google’s I/O conference later this month.
While it isn’t clear exactly what Nearby would be used for, the implication is that your Android phone might be able to easily interact with a friend’s phone, or a smart device in your home, or a hidden beacon in a store providing deals. One use will reportedly allow Android users to set a reminder that’s triggered the next time they see a specific person.
To do all of this, Android Police reports that every so often Nearby will automatically turn on a device’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and microphone. It’s that last signal that would likely be the key to this feature, allowing Android devices to recognize one another based on audio signals imperceptible to the human ear. But that purported feature would also pose big privacy concerns — Google would be automatically opening up and recording audio from your device, after all. Android Police reports that the gathered information would be sent up to Google’s servers, which would match devices’ recordings and send a signal back telling the devices to connect, without either phone actually getting hold of the recordings though.
Even so, it’s a potentially concerning ability, at least without knowing exactly how it’s implemented. It’s an especially pertinent concern too, as reports of online government surveillance have grown and grown over the last year, including some saying that the NSA is able to access Google’s servers. Nearby will reportedly record users’ location history as well, though it will allow users to limit who or what their devices will automatically begin interacting with. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Nearby has the possibility to make phones a whole lot smarter, letting them easily interact with what’s around them without any user intervention. Google will certainly have to quell concerns over how it functions though. If it does, we could begin seeing some inventive new apps that figure out how to take advantage of knowing exactly when two people are close together, and it’s possible we’ll see what that looks like soon.