With all the current legal wrangling about smartphones monitoring users’ locations, you might think companies would be extra weary of hitting a privacy-conscious nerve. But just in time for the holiday season, two U.S. shopping malls are importing a new tracking technology from British company Path Intelligence, with the goal of collecting data on shoppers via their cell phones.
Starting on Black Friday and up until the end of the year, the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, VA, will use Path Intelligence’s FoothPath Technology to track shoppers’ movements from store to store with the goal of gathering info about which retailers are the most popular.
Unlike other location-tracking methods that use GPS or Wi-Fi, FoothPath’s solution (according to its website) using monitoring units installed throughout the malls to “measure signals from the consumers’ mobile phones using a unique technology that can locate a consumer’s position to within a few metres.”
This system reportedly doesn’t collect any personal information, such as a customer’s name and phone number, and instead just assigns a unique ID number to each handset. While that may soothe some privacy concerns—and both malls have signs alerting shoppers about the “anonymous mobile phone survey”—what’s potentially troubling is that there’s no way to opt out of the tracking… short of turning off your phone.
While FootPath doesn’t look like a huge threat to users’ privacy, it’s still quite new on this side of the pond. The technology has already reached wider deployment in Europe, where it apparently wasn’t met with much public uproar. We’ll have to wait and see if the technology as innocuous as it sounds, but for now one thing’s clear: It’s becoming harder and harder to opt out of being tracked—unless you’re willing to part with your favorite gadgets.