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Malls Planning to Track Smartphones During Black Friday?

Is this even legal?

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Malls Planning to Track Smartphones During Black Friday?
[ Technology]

Location data, and the privacy issues related to the subject are a touchy subject, especially among those who value their privacy. With that in mind, would you go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving if you knew the store(s) you visited were tracking your smartphone after you left? Furthermore, if this kind of tracking did go on, is this not grounds for some kind of violation of privacy legal statutes?

Well, if two malls in the U.S. have their way, they will track potential customers and their movements around the mall via mobile phone location data. Apparently, we’re one step closer to the kind of personal advertising as seen in the movie, Minority Report:


According to a report appearing in CNNMoney:

Starting on Black Friday and running through New Year’s Day, two U.S. malls — Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. — will track guests’ movements by monitoring the signals from their cell phones.

The report indicates the data is anonymous, but these malls will be able to track users, or their devices, anyway, from store to store.

Is this a good thing? Should retail outlets be able to monitor the movements of people based on their smartphone-generated location data? Or should something like this have to have legal approval beforehand? Apparently, there are goals associated with the tracking, and, of course, they are marketing related:

The goal is for stores to answer questions like: How many Nordstrom shoppers also stop at Starbucks? How long do most customers linger in Victoria’s Secret? Are there unpopular spots in the mall that aren’t being visited?

While both malls say personal data is not being tracked, how hard is it to match a phone signal up with its user? For instance, “we have a potential shopper who just left the store next to ours. Let’s put our best foot forward at the storefront and try to attract those who are passing by.” Apparently, however, that is not the intention of this tracking project:

“We won’t be looking at singular shoppers,” said Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, vice president of digital strategy for Forest City. “The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to.”

CNN also documents the tracking service being used by the malls in question:

The tracking system, called FootPath Technology, works through a series of antennas positioned throughout the shopping center that capture the unique identification number assigned to each phone (similar to a computer’s IP address), and tracks its movement throughout the stores.

Consumers who don’t want to be followed have one method of opting out of the tracking service: turn their phone off.

This leads to a couple of questions: Would you shop at a mall that tracked users based on mobile data? Do these tracking services violate privacy, even if no personal data is being collected? Shouldn’t there be another way besides powering down your device to opt out of this tracking service?

Let us know what you think.

Malls Planning to Track Smartphones During Black Friday?
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  • http://www.socialwebacademy.com/ Dave Macdonald

    I personally don’t think tracking cellphone location data is a violation of privacy at all. Even if they are collecting personal data from mobile phones, like you mentioned mall shoppers have the ability to turn off their devices. Once these marketing practices become more mainstream I’m sure you will be able to alter the amount and kind of information your mobile device gives away.

    • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steven

      So basically your solution is to keep your cell phone off while shopping? What if there was an emergency or plans had changed? How would somebody text or call you about it? I think if Google can’t drive around and collect Wi-Fi hotspot information then malls and shops shouldn’t be allowed to track their customers via cell phones without consent. A frequent shopper program app would be great for allowing such consent. Let the malls track you when you’re shopping through their special app which rewards you with special discounts and such for letting them track your shopping experience.

  • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steven

    I think the malls should take it one step further. How about a free app that lets them track you 100%. Like a frequent shopper program that rewards you for allowing them to beep you with advertisements. So a store that knows you come in from time to time and then sees you’ve been walking past them and not shopping the past few visits to the mall might beep your app and give you a 20% discount good for the next hour if you make a purchase in the store. Maybe even rewards points for how many times you show up at the mall. Good for free stuff, like gift wrapping, a free pretzel, maybe even a sweepstakes like a new car to the 1 millionth person to show up in the mall with the app running. I think these malls need to go on step further, not just use this technology on a single day of the year, but everyday. I like opt in better than having to turn off my cell phone while shopping.

  • http://www.lipu-china.com fine crusher

    Consumers who don’t want to be followed have one method of opting out of the tracking service: turn their phone off.

  • Darren L

    So how are they doing this exactly? Is the mall offering free wifi, and any phone that connects to it is having their IP address monitored as the user passes through different access points?

    Or is there something happening whereby they can track the 3G/4G IP address assigned by the phone company?

  • http://www.solar-power-north-west.co.uk Sol Invictus

    It’s just creepy and indicative of the control freak society that we live in. You guys who think that all this tracking and tracing, spying and covert stuff is ok, need to re-read your history, then work out what governments like to do with that information, when we inadvertently vote in the ‘wrong’ people (they’re all control freaks, some are more psychotic than others!)

  • http://www.latinphone.com Tarjeta telefonicas

    They don’t track the IP address of the phone’s data connection, the antennas installed inside the mall “listen” the communications between the phones and the cellular towers. Each GSM phone has a unique IMEI number which travells back and forth in all communications with the cell tower. Then the software can precisely trace the path inside the mall.