So Big Data is not only collecting, and selling your information online, but in retail stores too. I know we are being trained to just shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to living in the 21st C.E., but I can’t quite get comfortable with the idea that corporations have accumulated so much information about me and you that the information is a commodity. We’ve discussed how prevalent this activity is, a few times, or more.
The technology that allows stores to track shoppers’ cellphones, for instance, works even when customers do not log on to the Wi-Fi networks of stores. The only way a cellphone user can avoid being tracked is to turn off the Wi-Fi feature on their phones, which few are likely to do if they are unaware of the monitoring in the first place. While a few retailers like Nordstrom have posted signs telling customers that they were being monitored in this way, many others do not do so. (Nordstrom stopped tracking cellphones in May, partly as a result of complaints from customers.)
If stores want to track their customers, they should tell the public what they are doing and give people the ability to opt out of monitoring. Many shoppers say they are willing to give information about themselves in exchange for special deals and promotions. But some consumers go to physical stores because they want to protect their privacy. Traditional retailers would be smart not to alienate customers by surreptitiously tracking them.
(click here to continue reading You (and Your Cellphone) on Candid Camera – NYTimes.com.)
especially since technology to track us is advancing quickly:
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, says that although most of the focus in the media has been on how companies are tracking us through Internet browsers and smart phones, there is actually more danger of invasions of privacy occurring in physical retail outlets, mostly because consumers are unaware of the extent to which they are being tracked. “This is an entire business model that has sprung up that I think maybe three people in the entire country know about outside the industry,” she says.
And though analytics firms and retailers claim they aren’t using technology to personally identify shoppers or pair that information with financial histories, it is very much possible to do so. In 2010, the Association of Marketing in Retail produced a voluntary code of conduct for marketers and retailers to use as a guide in their tracking and marketing efforts. The code outlines the various tracking capabilities available and rates them on a scale from low risk to high risk. According to the code of conduct, a low-risk tracking method would include “infrared or laser or laser beam motion detectors” that can give retailers an idea of how many people are in a store and where they are traveling but “are not able to track or record individual consumer paths.” The high-risk end of the spectrum includes methods that allow retailers to individually track consumers by recognizing a smart phone wi-fi signal or through interpreting visual data from facial-recognition technology.
That kind of tracking is, according to Dixon, unethical and contrary to shoppers’ expectation of privacy. “Legally, stores have the right to put up security cameras, but the consumer expectation of privacy is being circumvented here,” she says. “Because when a consumer looks into that camera, they expect it’s being used for security, not marketing purposes.”
According to Mark Eichorn of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC has been monitoring this type of consumer tracking but hasn’t found that firms are using facial-recognition software to create individual profiles of customers. Last December, the FTC held a workshop on facial-recognition technology in the retail space
(click here to continue reading Are Retailers Using Facial-Recognition Software to Track Customers? | TIME.com.)
To me, a government agency such as the FTC saying “we haven’t seen this activity” does not make me confident. The federal government is not proactive in most instances, preferring to Not Know, so that nobody can complain that Nothing Is Being Done. In other words, I’m guessing some corporations are using facial recognition software and merging that with databases of financial history and who knows what else. The NSA is one thing, but do you really want Home Depot or Macy’s to be able to profit off of you in this way? Where do you opt out? Nowhere, other than moving to Frostpocket and going off the grid…