Going Shopping During the Holidays? Your Phone Might be Watching

Space Odyssey Hal

Depending on where you shop, your cell phone might be keeping track of where you go.

Here’s a happy thought to keep you warm while you’re doing holiday shopping. Depending on where you shop, your cell phone might be keeping track of where you go… and the number of places that watch you will probably increase in the future.

Two U.S. malls, Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, VA, will be keeping tabs on shoppers with their own phones. According to CNN, the monitoring will occur from Black Friday through New Year’s Day.

The tracking system is called FootPath Technology, and it works through a series of antennas that are positioned in various locations throughout malls. The system basically ‘captures’ the unique identification number assigned to your phone and tracks it as you go through the stores.

According to Forest City Commercial Management, the management company for both malls, personal data is not being tracked and visitors to either mall can choose to opt out of the program by simply turning their cell phones off. The company is posting signs through both malls to let customers know they are being tracked, as well as advising them on how to opt out.

It might seem like an extreme invasion of privacy but some retail analysts say it’s just a high-tech spin on a practice that’s been going on for years, with FootPath taking the place of people counters, security cameras, heat maps, and undercover researchers that follow shoppers around.

FootPath Technology, created by Path Intelligence in Britain, has been used in Europe and Australia, but this year marks its U.S. debut, and it looks like FootPath will be branching out. J.C. Penney and Home Depot are also working with Path Intelligence. While Penney declined to comment on their relationship with the vendor, a spokesperson for Home Depot admitted the tracking technology was being considered but has not been used at this time.

Sharon Biggar, the CEO of Path Intelligence, says FootPath Technology is designed to give brick-and-mortar retailers the same type of shopping statistics that are already obtained by online retailers.

“We can now say, you had 100 people come to this product, but no one purchased it,” says Biggar. “From there, we can help a retailer narrow down what’s going wrong.”

5 Comments on "Going Shopping During the Holidays? Your Phone Might be Watching"

  1. Markus Demitrius | November 24, 2011 at 6:09 am | Reply

    So all you have to do to opt out is TURN OFF YOUR PHONE? Why do you think we carry them on our person?

    Just another example of the 1% morphing into a Big Brother!

  2. I agree. It does sort of defeat the purpose of having a cell phone, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the malls are counting on.

    On one hand, I’m all for malls and other businesses using technology to improve the customer experience, but there should be a way to opt-in rather than having to opt-out of something that automatically happens.

  3. I would boycott those malls. And J.C. Penney and Home Depot if they do this.

  4. Charles Phelps | March 27, 2012 at 9:51 am | Reply

    Where else might this technology be in use now or in the future? And for what purpose, and by whom? We know about the use of this system in the two malls named in the article only because they told us. It seems that the delusional paranoiac’s view of the world is becoming a reality.

  5. Robert Grimshaw | November 16, 2015 at 2:35 am | Reply

    Very tricky these little bundles of technology we carry around. To most people the attitude would be ” Who cares. ” But in reality it’s an invasion of privacy even the Police cannot get unless they have a warrant. What’s next, stores peek into your phone to access your home computer to find out what you have been spending your money on?
    Don’t laugh, it would not be that hard to do. Even if agents of retailers have the most benign motives at heart, once that practice becomes a fact others will expand on it and their goals may not be so altruistic. Do you want any company or individual with the tech capacity to have access to anything of yours? I don’t. I am sure Court cases will be the future of this and other nifty little schemes.

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