Invasive new technology has allowed retailers to monitor and track the position of shoppers by sniffing out wi-fi signals from smartphones. It has already tracked over 50 million people in at least 4,000 locations.
U.S. retailers including Home Depot and Nordstrom have already implemented the surveillance technology, alongside some of the most popular shopping malls in Singapore.
These systems provide a detailed minute-by-minute level of surveillance and can tell the amount of time a customer spent in a particular store, how often they visit the store, and it can tell the difference between new and returning customers.
In most cases shoppers are unaware that they are being tracked, let alone asked for their permission.
According to InfoWorld, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who introduced legislation to regulate shopper tracking has spoken out against the use of the system:
It’s one thing to track someone’s shopping habits through a loyalty card or credit card purchase; folks understand that their information may be collected. It’s another thing entirely to track consumers’ movements without their permission as they shop, especially when someone doesn’t buy anything or even enter a store. People have a fundamental right to privacy, and I think neglecting to ask consumers for their permission to track them violates that right.
Dave Maass, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation said:
People understand there are cameras in stores to prevent shoplifting, and they know that if they use credit or reward cards their information is collected. But that’s voluntary. This technology is not.
Here’s how the system works:
While the companies behind this technology claim that information returned is anonymous through “hashing” the Mac data, last year Ed Felten who works for the Federal Trade Commission demonstrated how easy it is for hackers to unscramble hashed data, labeling the use of hashing as “risky”:
The casual assumption that hashing is sufficient to anonymize data is risky at best, and usually wrong.