Privacy Law

Big Brother May Not Be Watching You, But Some Shopping Malls Know Where You Are at All Times


In an example of how cutting-edge technology apparently may be far ahead of lawmakers, PC Magazine is reporting that at least two U.S. shopping malls, in California and Virginia, will be tracking customers through their cellphones this holiday season.

The Footpath system, which tracks shoppers anonymously, according to those who promote it, is intended to help merchants maximize their real estate by identifying which areas of their stores are drawing the most customers.

The situation isn’t yet a real-life equivalent of the sci-fi scene in the Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise enters a shopping center and is immediately identified and bombarded with advertisements. However, the article points out that shoppers may not be aware they are being tracked by the system.

Those that distribute Footpath say the anonymous system doesn’t violate privacy law and point out that customers can avoid being tracked by turning off their cellphones.

The company that oversees both malls, Forest City Commercial Management, says it is placing small signs throughout the shopping centers to notify customers although individuals will not be monitored, reports CNNMoney.

“We won’t be looking at singular shoppers,” says Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, a vice president of digital strategy for the management company. “The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to.”

Nonetheless, some observers are concerned. While the information being tracked is largely harmless, retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research wonders about adverse consequences if hackers gain access and are able to track individuals’ movements.

“I’m sure as more people get more cell phones, it’s probably inevitable that it will continue as a resource,” Mulpuru told CNNMoney. “But I think the future is going to have to be opt in, not opt out.”

Hat tip: Tech Blog (Houston Chronicle)

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