Schumer warns: Big Brother is watching you shop!

Tracking done through cell phones

August 1, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Attention shoppers! In aisle three, the store knows exactly which items you’re looking to buy before you purchase them.

Your personal shopping habits – including which shirts you take off the rack to try on in the department store dressing room – are under constant scrutiny by a surprising spy, according to N.Y. Senator Charles Schumer.

Schumer is warning consumers that major national retailers are using sophisticated monitoring software to track every movement shoppers make while in their stores. The retailers then save that data for future use.

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Schumer cited published reports which named retailers like United Colors of Benetton, American Apparel, Swatch and Family Dollar as being among the stores that gain access to the shopper’s cell phone ID to acquire information about shoppers without their permission.

The secret technology allows shoppers to be tracked, moment by moment, through signals put out through the shoppers’ smart phones, Schumer said. The technology allows a retailer to learn in what part of the store the customer spent time in, what products a shopper considered buying, and how long the customer spent looking at those products.

In other words, it’s not just what you buy that is being monitored; it’s what you’re considering buying.

“Personal cell phones are just that – personal. They shouldn’t be used as some James Bond-like tracking device without the shopper’s knowledge,” the senator said.

After tracking a shopper’s habits, retailers can combine the data they’ve collected with data found online, creating an incredibly detailed profile of each shopper. Schumer pointed out that consumers have no say over how that data is used, who it’s sold to, where it’s stored, or how it’s secured.   

Retailers purchase the tracking technology from third-party technology companies like Cisco, Euclid Analytics and Path Intelligence, a British company that provides its services to retailers and malls across Europe and Australia.

If a shopper doesn’t want to be tracked, their only option is to turn off their phone’s Wi-Fi, or leave their phone at home, according to Schumer.

“Cell phone tracking is intrusive and unsettling – it’s as if you are being followed around while shopping at the mall, with someone looking over your shoulder at every product you’re considering,” said Schumer.

Most shoppers aren’t even aware of this shocking invasion of privacy, Schumer said.

Schumer has asked the Federal Trade Commission to require that retailers give shoppers an opportunity to “opt-out” before tracking them. Schumer said that a consumer’s personal cell phone is just that – personal.  It shouldn’t be used as a tracking device by retailers without a consumer’s permission, he said.

One way to let shoppers know what is happening is to have the FTC require that stores send electronic notices to the phones they are about to start tracking, and give the owners of those phones a chance to opt-out, the senator said.

“If you’re shopping, you expect to be the one doing the reviewing, but stores are flipping that on its head, and treating the consumers as the products.  If stores are going to track you footstep by footstep, you should be alerted in no uncertain terms, and be given the opportunity to decline,” Schumer said.


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