Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Big Brother Pays Off as Predictive Behavior Technology Targets Shoppers

John Galt
Activist Post

Just prior to Black Friday, I issued an alert that anyone shopping in either of two American malls -- Promenade Temecula in California, and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. -- would be tracked via their cell phone utilizing FootPathTM  technology as they moved from store to store.

Fortunately, that test-run produced enough outrage to force both the UK maker of the technology, Path Intelligence, as well as mall management to halt the surveillance and respond to a call from Sen. Charles Schumer over general privacy concerns, as well as the legality according to U.S. regulations.

However, many retailers seem undeterred by privacy issues and have fully embraced the concept of going even a step further: forming a web comprised of cell phone tracking, surveillance camera footage, and software analysis of shoppers' movements and decisions.

A recent report by Bloomberg comes to a disturbing conclusion in at least one case -- the greater the tracking, the greater the sales.

The concept of studying consumer behavior is certainly nothing new, but it has advanced to nearly predictive behavior capability on the Internet.  The virtual world is naturally designed for databases and information analysis.  However, there is something just a bit more creepy and dehumanizing about being studied in the physical world similar to mice being put through their paces in a maze.  A little cheese here, a little shock there -- and, what do you know; look at 'em run. 

I don't believe that's an inaccurate metaphor, as retailers are changing their strategy from data collection through voluntary choice (customer surveys) to the more compulsory covert surveillance and collection that high-tech enables.  The result is an eye in the sky looking down upon the maze of shoppers moving through different areas of stimulating bait, while groups of gatekeepers encourage a pre-determined pattern of behavior. The mission is to transform the unpredictable brick-and-mortar world into the pattern recognition landscape of the Web.

Ashley Lutz and Matt Townsend, writing for Bloomberg, sum up the programming:
The goal is to divine which variables affect a purchase, then act with Web-like nimbleness to deploy more salespeople, alter displays, or put out red blouses instead of blue.
RetailNEXT is a product of BVI Networks, which is at the heart of the new high tech approach to shopper management. Alexei Agratchev, chief executive officer of consultancy, expressed his distaste for the unknown by saying that "stores have been a black hole" . . . until now.  According to their website, the company utilizes "best-in-class video analytics, on-shelf sensors and RFID readers along with data from point-of-sale and other business systems" in order to create an information field to fill that black hole. Agratchev's background is interesting, having formerly been a senior manager at Cisco systems and a consultant for Accenture; a company currently at the center of government funding to implement a biometric database for illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens alike, as well as construction of the Smart Grid. 

All along we have repeatedly been reassured that security cameras and other forms of surveillance were strictly to keep businesses and the public safe from criminals, but their ubiquitous presence has morphed into a tool to track and catalog everyone, in both public and private sectors. Once again the promise of more security brings only more enslavement. Furthermore, the tech sector continues to be exposed for having built in backdoors from the very beginning at the behest of government agencies like the FBI, calling into question any concern for the true end user's digital privacy rights

And, true to form, the RetailNEXT technology of security camera and RFID tracking already seems to have been taken to the next level by security systems' maker 3VR -- they are incorporating facial recognition into the shopping experience.  As company CEO, Al Shipp, boasts, "You’ll have the ability someday to measure every metric imaginable. We’re scratching the surface.”  The shopping application is an extension of a facial recognition security function that they have been using in Northern California banks where Shipp says, “We can search for a face in any of a bank’s branches in Northern California in the last 30 days … 3VR can do it in about 30 seconds.”

For a look at the extreme ends of where this type of security camera/software integration is being developed, have a look across the pond to Great Britain -- which is, incidentally, where the makers of the Black Friday mall tracking technology are based:

Shopper surveillance has already been embraced heavily in Europe, but so far has been met with at least some resistance in the United States, as the Black Friday mall tests have indicated.  Retailers like JCPenny have been hesitant to sign on, as well as Home Depot.  However, when companies like Montblanc report a 20% sales increase since they began tracking their shoppers, other stores are bound to overlook privacy issues. If people are so concerned, they might reason, then why do they show up?  And this is the lesson we consumers should learn: If we don't want to be viewed as Pavlovian maze dwellers, then let's believe more strongly in our human dignity.  If we are ready to give up our privacy so easily, then companies specializing in data mining and behavior management certainly are ready to take it.

To see where all of this is ultimately heading unless we strongly resist and boycott the companies and locations that install these technologies, please view the video below for Recorded Future -- a company whose tag line is "Unlock the Predictive Power of the Web." 


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Anonymous said...

Want to have more sales? Have more sales staff.
I've walked away from purchasing anything in more than one department store this December.
I go where I'm welcomed and completely understand why user friendly web sites do so much business. If all the department stores in all the malls shut down, Amazon and a few others would pick up the bit of remaining business they might be doing now.....

I vote with my feet and all the cameras and all the detection devices they can invent won't make me buy any product from a place that doesn't give me a sales clerk at a convenient location. No wonder so many stores were practically empty of customers. Sure saved me some cash this year.

idosing said...

Great Post........INFORMATIVE.....

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Anonymous.I stay away from the malls . WallMart. Big stores. I allway's TRY TO SUPPORT THE FRIENDLIER MOM AND POP PLACES.supporting local economy..As well as they are not led by greed and wanting to know every little thing . BAH.Your greeted and actually helped. At some point people need to realize what is going on . and stop being blinded by all the lies that are told to them of Why *They * do this or that.! You know,I would not have problems with camera's and ect. if it actually was used for the protection of humans. from the ones intending others harm. But too bad it is not for that .Nor do they care about our safety. Just Greed Mongering fools.Namaste.

Anonymous said...

Some of the 'big box' retailers are supposedly starting to cut back on in-store service now while pushing the convenience of online shopping through their websites because it is cheaper to run the website than pay more staff and provide benefits and such.

They tell us it is for our convenience and to help them serve us better, yet the reality is it is cheaper and helps them maintain a good profit margin in these tough economic times.

And the people who would otherwise be employed to provide in-store service can enjoy Christmas some other year...

This entire system has 2 main uses in a retail environment -

1.) Helping to build a comprehensive consumer profile in conjunction with major online entities like Google used to target people with advertising for online shopping.

2.) With the advent and shift into the "smart phone" generation to replace many in-store services by building a dynamic network that can track your every move, answer questions through messaging or send an alert to your phone to let you know about a great deal you are sure to love... and so on.

Either way human interaction is being phased out and in the case of such store "smart" networks what scares me is that it probably is NOT cheaper than human beings.

When corporations driven entirely by profit(by law) unusually choose the publicly less profitable path that often means they are being covertly compensated for it by some other entity as part of a 'test program' or such, likely for some facet of the Military Industrial Complex.

I can just imagine in the near future some poor American slob sitting on a toilet and having their "smart phone" buzz with an information alert letting them know that terrorists can use toilet paper to kill American citizens so they should consider switching to moist wipes instead, on sale now at...

And sadly many Americans would probably be like "wow, my phone is so smart it even knows I'm on the toilet! That's so cool!". :(

Balu said...

I say give them what they want. Go "shopping" --- window shopping that is. Tiptoe thro' all the stores ... all malls. When you stop somewhere to get something, get it, but please visit a whole lot of other stores in the area ... look at stuff that is a total waste ... you don't have to buy anything ...
Or if you really feel like it, buy stuff ... stuff that you don't need, don't want and can't use ... and make sure it's something you can take back. Take it back ... Keep them busy.

Balu said...

Hope this is not repeated. I typed in the comment. said post as ... and it emptied itself ---

Keep them happy. Give them "information" ... Walk thro' all the stores in every mall ... You don't have to BUY anything ... Unless you feel really diabolical --- then you "buy" stuff ... and make sure you can return it ... and return it ...

Anonymous said...

We are literally killing our Nation and our liberty and our selves with our own tax money cause not enough of us have the guts to tell congress to back off and stand down or recall them. Too many morons out there electing them to do much about it. And Sheriff Joe hasn't arrested Barack who ever he really is Obama yet! so maybe if a million or two or 10 or 20 or 90 or 100 million of us pray for the same solution to or National debt problem the government might learn a lesson and quit wasting our money trying to control: every breath we take, every thing we do, every thing we think.

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