Two U.S. malls were all set to use a new technology from U.K.-based FootPath Technology over the Black Friday weekend which would have allowed them to track each shopper’s movement throughout the mall, from store to store, using a unique mobile phone signal from each shopper’s cell phone – without their knowledge or consent! JC Penny and Home Depot are also said to be looking at adopting the FootPath technology.
The malls – the Short Pump Town Center in Virginia, and the Promenade Temecula in Southern California – had the technology in place, and ready to deploy, but apparently had second thoughts after New York Senator Charles Schumer issued a demand for closer scrutiny.
The Senator’s press release, with the heading “THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, NEW TECHNOLOGY COULD BE TRACKING SHOPPERS’ MOVEMENTS IN SHOPPING CENTERS THROUGH THEIR CELL PHONES; CALLS FOR MANDATORY OPT-IN BEFORE RETAILERS ARE ALLOWED TO TRACK SHOPPERS’ MOVEMENTS”, explains that “FootPath technology automatically tracks shoppers’ movements by monitoring the signal from their personal cell phones with antennas set up throughout malls and stores. If a shopper does not want to be tracked, their only option is to turn off their cell phone.”
The signal that is being monitored is the Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identifier – or “TMSI”. The TMSI is a short-term numeric identifier that is assigned to each mobile device as it passes into a cell tower’s coverage area. By monitoring the TMSI that is assigned to each mobile phone that enters the mall’s (or JC Penny’s or Home Depot’s, etc.) towers’ areas, the FootPath system can track each cell phone as its owner meanders from store to store, mapping their route.
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A notice on the Promenade Temecula website explains that “FootPath Technology is a unique product that can anonymously collect information on shopping behavior and flow using mobile phones… FootPath Technology consists of a small number of monitoring units installed throughout the center. The units measure already existing signals from shoppers’ mobile phones and feeds data to a processing center for analysis… The information will be used in our marketing, operations, leasing and other programs…”
Sharon Biggar, CEO of Path Intelligence, developers of FootPath, rationalizes that “Online retailers do not require you to ‘opt-in’ to being tracked. Rather they observe/track behavior from the moment a shopper enters an online website. We are simply seeking to create a level playing field for offline retailers, and believe you can do so whilst simultaneously protecting the privacy of shoppers.”
Says Senator Schumer, “Personal cell phones are just that – personal. If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so. It shouldn’t be up to the consumer to turn their cell phone off when they walk into the mall to ensure they aren’t being virtually tailed.”
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