The busiest shopping day of the year is set for a new level of consumer exploitation at two American malls.
A notice appearing at Promenade Temecula in California, and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. will advise shoppers that their cell phone signal will be used to track them as they move from store to store.
Although the system that is being employed claims it is guaranteed not to collect personal data, and people can opt-out by turning off their phone, we have heard this all before when justifying why it is OK to track, trace, and database the movements of everyday citizens.
According to a CNN report:
“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?”
This is supposedly being done, of course, to identify which stores and items people desire most, thus enhancing the shopping experience for store customers. This is the very same reason that was presented to encourage people to sign-up for “loyalty cards” and “frequent-shopper” cards. However, as we have come to find out, these systems of convenient shopping are more accurately described as data collection systems that can be used to profile people’s shopping habits, their physical movement, as well as for other uses far beyond the scope of the shopping experience.
This overall database of collected information has been used in numerous cases by law enforcement to establish the time and place of potential suspects, which has sometimes caused innocent people to be caught in the dragnet as a result of ordinary purchases that may suddenly look suspicious to law enforcement mining the data.
We know that there has already been a push by Federal agencies to employ warrantless cell phone tracking, so we can’t reasonably expect the validity of reassurances by mall management that the system, “doesn’t collect any personal details associated with the ID, like the user’s name or phone number. That information is fiercely protected by mobile carriers, and often can be legally obtained only through a court order.” An article by Declan McCullagh at CNET News states more accurately the following:
Whether state and federal police have been paying attention to Hollywood, or whether it was the other way around, cell phone tracking has become a regular feature in criminal investigations. It comes in two forms: police obtaining retrospective data kept by mobile providers for their own billing purposes that may not be very detailed, or prospective data that reveals the minute-by-minute location of a handset or mobile device.
Obtaining location details is now ‘commonplace,’ says Al Gidari, a partner in the Seattle offices of Perkins Coie who represents wireless carriers. ‘It’s in every pen register order these days.’ (source)
The Federal government is also fighting a recent Texas ruling declaring warrantless wiretapping to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment. So these are supposedly the “protectors” to whom we should surrender our data.
And in case one believes that store management really holds the customer in the highest regard and cares deeply for their shopping experience, the following quote should reverse that thought immediately. Vice president of digital strategy for the management group of both malls, Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, makes it quite clear how her group views shoppers:
The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to.
The specific technology is called FootPathTM and utilizes data collection and mapping to chart physical movements and behavior patterns, offering a service to mall management that promises to help them make more accurate business decisions (demo here). Again, this is one of the principal reasons given by the providers of customer loyalty cards.
As an aside, the U.K-based company that developed this technology — Path Intelligence — also employs tracking within transportation systems such as airports and trains, even going as far as determining “What nationalities are the passengers passing through the transportation hub?”
None of this technology is necessarily bad in-and-of itself, but time and again we have seen its dual-use capabilities being exploited by law enforcement and government agencies which has resulted in innocent people being subjected to the data dragnet.
Whether knowingly, or unknowingly, the companies that offer this technology — and the establishments that implement it — are aiding and abetting the eradication of privacy, as well as the manipulation of human decision making.
And this is what it is really about: total surveillance being used to predict behavior in order to enrich and empower those who own the technology, and to disempower the individuals on the receiving end. It is merely one more data point in the overall matrix of information used by corporate-government groups to reduce human beings to numbers.
This cell phone tracking program, running from Black Friday to New Year’s day, is clearly a test run for a system that will be rolled out on a much wider scale in the months and years to come if we don’t oppose it from the outset. We must resist by reconnecting with our local communities and shun any store or institution that views its customers as traveling information sources, or a time will come when we won’t even be notified that we are permitted to opt-out.
If you would like to voice your outrage over this tracking program, please contact the management company for both malls, Forest City Commercial Management, by clicking the home office indicated by a star on the map HERE.
You may also want to contact any of the stores that reside within these two malls to tell them you refuse to shop at their store while you are being surveiled. Pressure on individual stores might ultimately be more effective, as they will undoubtedly complain to management for the loss in sales due to the policy of management. Management tends to listen well to those who are paying the rent.
RELATED ACTIVIST POST ARTICLE:
10 Ways We Are Being Tracked, Traced, and Databased