Two US malls that served as a testing ground for the introduction of a cell phone tracking system of shoppers have been forced to temporarily suspend the program after a call from Sen. Charles Schumer(D-NY) over general privacy concerns, as well as the legality according to U.S. regulations.
The UK-based tech company, Path Intelligence, was slated to work with U.S. mall management company Forest City Commercial Management to implement their proprietary FootPath system for the first time in American malls, a breakthrough product that can gather information on pedestrian behaviour and flow on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day 365 days a year, using mobile phone technology. This provides organisations with the ability to optimise the layout of their space and improve their productivity, by understanding how people are moving around within it. There are many applications for FootPath with the more obvious ones being shopping centres, large format retailers, transportation hubs and entertainment arenas.
What are some of the less obvious applications?
Whatever they are, both companies are responding to concerns and are now re-evaluating their methods. As Schumer notes, “the malls should have given shoppers the choice to opt-in.” Instead, the only method was to opt-out after seeing a notice posted in the malls and turning off the phone.
It is encouraging to read that some Americans are becoming alert to companies that aim to exploit their personal information and who have very little concern over privacy until called out by the public. While Black Friday marked the first launch of this technology in the US, it has already been used here in Europe and in Australia, with alarmingly little backlash. U.S. retailers including J.C. Penney and Home Depot have also considered using the technology.
Would now be a good time to use the exposure of these companies to contact Home Depot and J.C. Penny immediately to tell them you will not shop in any location where you will be tracked and added to a database? Or, better yet, why not move away from chain stores completely and support shops in your local community that value your business, not only your data?