Friday, December 9, 2011

Tracking Shoppers

It’s not just for browsers anymore

I've been doing a lot of shopping this holiday season. I'd bet that some of you have, too.

If you are at all tech savvy, you know that as you search the web and shop for things online, a rough profile of your activity is established through the use of a few web server and browser tricks. The result is that you get targeted ads, and the online stores get a better chance of making a buck. It can be creepy and in some cases it could result in what might reasonably be considered a personal privacy breach. But it’s old news. And if you want to avoid it, you can just close your laptop, hop in the car, and go to the mall. Right?

Not so fast.

A British company called Path Intelligence is “bringing online analytics to the offline world” (a quote from their web site). They have a product called FootPath that uses cell phone signals as input to determine the movement of consumers through a retail space.

ARS Technica reported that two US malls – one in California and one in Virginia – are trialing this technology. They also reported an interpretation of US Law that would make this sort of thing illegal. It may take some time for technology and law to come to terms. You might want to watch your privacy while that plays through.

Would you be inclined to turn off your phone to protect your privacy if this technology were in place in a mall near you?  It might not be so easy to do. Especially when you are now so accustomed to “checking in” on Foursquare and Facebook, reviewing your Groupon deals, using your new Amazon Price Check app, and texting your friends about the cute outfit you just got.


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