Imagine walking into a bookstore, opening the Facebook app on your smartphone, and immediately receiving a notification that — lucky you — there’s a book reading scheduled to happen there in a few minutes, and that your friend Bob posted about the new book he bought there the other day.
That’s exactly the nearly-creepy scenario Facebook is envisioning with its Place Tips program, which, after testing for the last few months, is rolling out to more businesses in the U.S., Facebook said on Monday. It’s also now making its beacon units available to businesses who wish to use them in their stores for free.
The idea behind Place Tips is that there’s a lot of content and information from or about small businesses that could be of use to Facebook users when they’re actually in those locations, like an event starting soon, a restaurant menu, or a friend’s recent post about visiting that business. When users walk into a business, these tips will show up at the top of their news feed, though users can opt-out of them. A participating business can customize a welcome note that will appear when a user walks in, and can contain a greeting or piece of quick information, such as where the restrooms are located, today’s special, and so on.
“They always ask ‘How do I get more value from Facebook,’” VP of global small and medium businesses Dan Levy told Fortune about the feedback he often gets from small business owners. Place Tips is one new way Facebook is hoping to provide that for them.
Starting on Monday, Facebook is opening up applications for its free beacon program. The Facebook beacons are small Bluetooth-enabled units that emit a signal to smartphones to more accurately assess their location (Facebook uses GPS and other signals, but the beacons add accuracy). The beacons are free for businesses by request and free to use, and they come pre-configured for each business— the only necessary setup is to take the beacon out of the packaging and turn it on. Facebook product manager Mike LeBeau said that the company will give priority to businesses with very active and engaging Facebook pages as it rolls out the program for more and more businesses.
One thing that’s interesting is that Facebook doesn’t appear to have any plans — for now — to allow for these small businesses to push out ads to users through Place Tips. With Facebook already being an ads business, and multiple other companies coming out with beacon-based ads products, Place Tips would be a natural fit for this.
“I think its really early to know,” Levy said when asked if Facebook will ultimately bring ads to Place Tips.
Facebook came under fire over privacy concerns when it first introduced an ad targeting program with a similar name, Facebook Beacon, several years ago, which tracked users’ activities on participating third-party websites and published them on their friend’s news feeds. The company eventually shut down the program.
But even if users feel more comfortable with added tracking from Facebook, the real question remains— what might be Facebook’s end-game for Place Tips and its beacons if it’s not yet committing to advertising?
(Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Facebook’s Beacon product from 2007 as using beacon devices. The story has been updated to reflect the difference between the two.)