Yes, they are tracking you, shoppers

This Black Friday, some malls opted to track customers using their cellphone signals. The system allowed the mall to follow customers from one store to another, gathering valuable data in the process.

The two malls who used this planned cellphone tracking to gather data on their shoppers were Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond. They used a system called Foot Path developed by British Path Intelligence.

The system tracks the movement of shoppers in real time and records it on a computer system for later access. It does this through a series of antennas placed throughout the mall. These antennas intercept an ID signal from cellphones as users move about the mall. Once the signal is received, each phone is coded with a random anonymous number, preventing users from gathering any personal data on shoppers. This allowed the malls to get a idea of where people are shopping.

To further alleviate privacy concerns, the malls posted signs alerting guests their movements were going to be tracked. On top of that, the system had no way to take pictures or record what people were paying for and how.

Photo from Creative Commons.

Knowing where and when people shop is a big money industry, especially on days like Black Friday. It’s important to vendors to see where people shopped after being at their store and even more important for malls. It allows malls to keep an eye on foot traffic and spot any dead spots in the mall that aren’t doing well. Ultimately, following shoppers movements comes down to money.

Malls have been tracking shoppers for years, this is just the first time they have used cellphone signals as a means to do it. In past years they have used anything ranging from heat sensors, to security cameras, to undercover researchers who follow shoppers from store to store.

When compared with how shoppers were tracked on Cyber Monday, following people’s movements seems almost benign. Every purchase a shopper makes online will be recorded along with where they bought that item. Then some company out there using that data will tailor and add every shopper directly to their IP address.

The tracking will not stop once you finish shopping. For however long the tracking cookie remains on your computer, it will monitor and then report back where and what shoppers visited. The phone method of tracking doesn’t seem bad at all when compared with the invasive nature of cookies.

What shoppers and anyone should get from all of this is knowing where you go and what you do is big money. This means someone or something will always, at the very least, see where you go. This is just part of living in the cyber age.