Spying While Shopping: Malls Using Your Cell Phones to Track Your Movements in Stores

Vodpod videos no longer available.

While only two shopping malls in the country have been identified as using turned-on cell phones to track its visitors and customers, don’t be surprised if there are many, many more malls and stores who have adopted this practice, which is supposedly to assist in compiling marketing data, so as not to alarm the populace.  I don’t trust what the media is reporting about how many American malls—two, they are saying—are actually tracking customers as a test case.  And such a practice of snooping could easily turn into surreptitious forays into cell phone communications, voice mails, Tweets, stored passwords, and other personal activity on your cell phones.  Not necessarily by the companies, per se, but by unscrupulous employees.

Supposedly, this is only occurring during this holiday season.  But what if this practice is extended?

Thanks to a snoopy piece of tech from a U.K. company called Path Intelligence, some malls in Europe, Australia, and the United States will be tracking shoppers’ movements today through their cell phones.

A small number of discreet monitoring units installed throughout a mall, the company says, can grab signals from consumers’ mobile phones and track their movements with an accuracy of “a few meters.” That information is fed to a processing center where it is audited and analyzed to create a real-time picture of traffic flow through a shopping center. Mall operators can keep constant tabs on the information through Path Intelligence’s secure web-based reporting system.

As you’d expect with someone engaged in this kind of unsettling activity, the company swears it’s committed to protecting the privacy of the people it’s surveilling. “[O]ur detector units do not allow us to obtain your telephone number, to listen to any of your calls, read any SMS messages read or sent by you, or to log details of any calls or SMS messages made or received by you,” Path Intelligence states on its website. “Neither does any of the information received allow us to identify you or any group of individuals.”

Two U.S. malls–Promenade Temecula in Southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va.–will be launching the tracking service today and will use it through New Year’s Day, according to a report by CNN.

Bad enough that Rupert Murdoch and his scurrilous bunch of bottomfeeders are under investigation by queen and country for snooping into the cell phones of celebrities, of politicians, and of murdered dead girls, and now we have the spectre of Big Brother rising ever ominously above us.  I don’t give a damn: I don’t want to be tracked.  And especially, not tracked like this.

Another thing, don’t store too much of  your financial or personal passwords on your cell phone or change your passwords on a regular basis, using both numbers and letters.  Don’t use public WiFi to do your mobile banking.  It doesn’t matter if a coffeehouse or a mall offers it.   This is especially important for women.  Someone could very easily steal them electronically, jam your apps, and so forth.  It’s been done.

This sure is encouragement for folks to shut off their cell phones while they are shopping or until they leave the mall.

There has got to be a law.  Erika Morphy, a contributor at Forbes’ Magazine thinks so too, and lists six reasons why this step isn’t good at all, especially in light of a New York Times article last year that listed how many stores and malls use surveillance devices for marketing data as well as for security reasons.  They train cameras and mics on displays.   There are antennas monitoring cell phone beeps.  And that it may be illegal.

Still, it is not a good idea for a couple of reasons.

1. It really is creepy.

2. And smacks of being illegal. Not that I am suggesting it is, but I can’t help but think of the U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Jones, for which attorneys just made oral arguments. The case involves Antoine Jones, a former Washington, DC nightclub owner who is serving a life sentence for cocaine trafficking, who was convicted in part on evidence gathered when police put a GPS device on his Jeep and tracked his movements for a month. Justice Sonia Sotomayor brought up cell phones in her questioning. “Your theory is that as long as you’re monitoring someone in public, it’s reasonable for you to use their possessions to track them,” is what she said. Again, the situations are different and I am sure, given that stores are private property and considered public places, that tracking people in them is legal. But something’s just wrong when a sales tactic brings to mind a Fourth Amendment case pending before the Supreme Court.

3. Congress will step in as they probably will with online tracking (again, yeah right, just after they settle the debt deal situation this afternoon in time to meet its self-imposed deadline). But the FTC’s schedule seems free.

4. There will be a backlash. There was when it was discovered that Google and Apple devices had tracking capabilities, and let’s face it, there are few companies out there that are big enough to risk customer defections as Google and Apple did. Or for that matter, few retailers that invoke feelings of loyalty, like Apple does.

Android smartphones particularly have been the target of several viruses.  Even Facebook has had to weather several serious security attacks lately, and unfortunately, people will put everything online or on cell phones thinking that nothing will go wrong.  Like the cell phone won’t get lost or stolen, or that it won’t be hacked.  Don’t.  Know your limits.  Venture to ask your cell phone provider about security drawbacks.  Change your passwords or store them in your mind or in a secret place.  You cannot trust technology, only your own common sense.

~ by blksista on November 26, 2011.

One Response to “Spying While Shopping: Malls Using Your Cell Phones to Track Your Movements in Stores”

  1. Don’t use your cell phones in the mall. Turn it off before going into the mall. Pretty soon, they are going to retrieving all your personal data.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: