Retailers are constantly trying to track shoppers activities, to try to attract more consumers to their stores and improve their sales. They use various methods to do this including shopper cards and newspaper inserts just to name a few. A couple of malls are testing a new technology called Footpath by Path Intelligence. Footpath tracks the movement of consumers by their cellphone. It has the ability to track the consumer to within a few meters of where they are. The information is then feed to a central processing center, where it is audited and studied to create a continual updated report on the flow of shoppers throughout a store or mall. It can be used to better place stores in a mall and merchandise within a store.
According to the Path website, it works by tracking random signals from mobile phones. The system does not collect or view phone numbers, SMS messages, or listen to calls. The information it collects can not identify an individual caller. The detector units can only be accessed by trained personal, mall employees do not have access to the tracking device. So the tracking devices can not be combined with other information by mall employees to get more detailed and individual information. It is aggregated information and not real-time that is provided to client. Path also has agreed not to access any third-party information that could in combination with Footpath identify individuals. Despite these promises some privacy experts are concerned about the misuse of the technology by both Path and their clients. Mark Rasch, the director of cyber security at CSC stated.
“Although this mall technology might not identify specific individuals, it raises a bunch of privacy red flags,” he wrote. “First, the instant the consumer identifies himself or herself anywhere in the mall (say, by using a credit or debit card to buy something), it is a trivial task to cross reference the cell phone data with the payment data and realize that the person hanging around outside the Victoria’s Secret dressing room was your 70-year-old neighbor.”(via We’re watching: malls track shopper’s cell phone signals to gather marketing data)
At this point only two malls in the United States are testing the technology, the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. They will be testing it thru New Year’s Day. Both malls have signs throughout their location telling shoppers that their cellphones are being tracked and they can opt out of the system by turning their phones off. In today’s world where most people are never without their phones, this seems an unlikely choice. The system is also being tested in some malls in Europe and Australia. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this technology and it’s uses being tested in court by privacy advocates. However since malls are private properties courts tend to give them a lot of leeway.