Monday, October 21, 2013

More Retail Surveillance Coming To Your Store...Or, Maybe It's There Already

Last week, I wrote about how some stores were exploring the idea of placing cameras in store shelves in order to surveil shopping habits.  Today, I read that the practice of tracking smartphone wi-fi signals is becoming more prevalent.  You might want to switch your phone off while shopping.

This Washington Post article explains that mobile analytics companies are gathering a great deal of information from "watching" shoppers navigate a store.  Did they go near the special deals section? Did they even get to the cash register?  How much time did they spend in the store?  Many, many questions.  As with the shelf tracking cameras, these are just more attempts to track behavior and improve marketing.  But without an incentive for consumers, it's pretty much a loss to them in terms of privacy.

Do Not Wi Fi Me!
There's hope.  A sort of "Do Not Call Registry" for mobile devices identification numbers is being built.  Theoretically, one would register their Media Access Control (MAC) address and it would signify that you don't want this info shared while you are in a store.  We'll see.  In the mean time, turning off wi-fi altogether while shopping means that you won't be able to get real-time price comparison from such apps as Red Laser.  That app allows one to "scan" the barcode on their phone and look up prices.  More useful for comparing larger items, but I wouldn't be surprised if fruit has a barcode one day.

It also means that the Facebook, Four Square, or other "check-in" site obsessed won't be able to tell their 500 friends that they are at Starbucks.  That might not be so bad....