Stores Tracking Our Cell Phones

Some retailers are following customer movement in stores by tracking cell phone movement. From a legal perspective it raises issues around privacy and perhaps wiretapping laws. To a great extent whether or not such activities comply are dependent upon the subtleties of how it is being done, and how anonymously it is being done.

The other issue – as is often the case when dealing with privacy related issues – is the customer acceptance or “creepiness” factor. Some people would welcome getting a coupon on their phone while wandering through a store. But for others it feels like surveillance and tracking that is just plain creepy.

The New York Times has a good article exploring some of these issues entitled Attention, Shoppers: Store Is Tracking Your Cell.

From the article:

Nordstrom’s experiment is part of a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it.

All sorts of retailers — including national chains, like Family Dollar, Cabela’s and Mothercare, a British company, and specialty stores like Benetton and Warby Parker — are testing these technologies and using them to decide on matters like changing store layouts and offering customized coupons.

But while consumers seem to have no problem with cookies, profiles and other online tools that let e-commerce sites know who they are and how they shop, some bristle at the physical version, at a time when government surveillance — of telephone calls, Internet activity and Postal Service deliveries — is front and center because of the leaks by Edward J. Snowden.

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