Going Shopping? Stores Could Be Tracking Your Every Move From Your Smartphone
stores tracking customers When you walk into a brick and mortar retail store like a Nordstrom, Cabela, or even Family Dollar, you're being tracked around the store. Not by an over-suspicious security guard, but by the store's wireless network, using your phone's Wi-Fi. The store then uses your phone to track you around the store, determine if you're a repeat visitor, see what departments you visit, and more. Here's how they do it, and how to stop them.
The New York Times broke the story that a number of retail stores are either experimenting with or actively using technology that uses your phone's Wi-Fi to track your movements around the store. We're not talking about location within a few meters either—we're talking about exact location.
stores tracking customers
Nordstrom, the store that the New York Times focuses on in its piece (although it's not the only one doing this) installed sensors around some of its stores that would scan for smartphones with Wi-Fi turned on and scanning for networks. The sensors would then make note of the device's MAC address (an address that's unique to your phone) and use it to identify and follow the device as it moves about the store. Information about how frequently that MAC address visits the store, which departments it visits when it's in the store, how long it stays in each department, and how long it stays in the store. Granted, you are not your phone's MAC address, but if you carry your phone with you all the time, you may as well be. As the NYT explains:
Nordstrom’s experiment is part of a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it. All sorts of retailers — including national chains, like Family Dollar, Cabela’s and Mothercare, a British company, and specialty stores like Benetton and Warby Parker — are testing these technologies and using them to decide on matters like changing store layouts and offering customized coupons.
This controversy isn't likely to die down anytime soon, but if all of this cell phone tracking makes you uncomfortable, there's a simple answer: Turn off Wi-Fi on your phone when you go shopping, or turn your phone off entirely.
If your phone is using mobile data, these systems can't connect to your device to track it, so turning off Wi-Fi is a good option if you still want to be able to use your phone while you shop. The only surefire way to make sure no one's tracking you though is to turn off your phone entirely. That doesn't get you out of video surveillance (which most stores make it clear you're opting into when you walk in anyway), but it does get you out of these programs if you want out.
Does store surveillance using your smartphone wifi worry you? Would you consider shopping elsewhere if you discovered a store tracking your every move while shopping? Sound off below!
stores tracking customers