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Big Name Retailers Tracking Cell Phones, Too

by Todd Haselton | July 15, 2013July 15, 2013 10:30 am PDT

nordstrom

Retail stores are tracking your smartphone, according to a new report published by The New York Times on Monday. The news outlet found that Nordstrom is already tracking shoppers and that others, including Mothercare, Family Dollar, Cabellas, Warby Parker and Benetton are also interested or already testing ways to track shopping habits. The revelation is particularly concerning considering we’re still learning more about the details of PRISM and the alleged sharing of private information between major tech firms and the U.S. government.

The tracking doesn’t seem to be that scary right now, all things considered. In fact, it’s worth raising the argument that the more a store knows about your shopping habits the better it can advertise products that you might be interested in. If you’re shopping for sports gear, for example, you probably don’t want to know much about a sale on quilts on the fourth floor of Nordstrom. Still, The New York Times said that the aforementioned company is tracking the number of repeat visitors – that would require that it knows who you are, at some point, if even you’re just a number – how often people walk through the door and more. It’s not uncommon for retailers to keep this kind of information, Amazon does it all the time. Visit Amazon, for example, and you’ll see ads for products you might be interested in based on your purchase history.

RetailNext is one of the firms that sells the technology to retail outlets in an effort to help them compete more efficiently with online competitors such as Amazon. It tracks when your phone searches for a Wi-Fi network and then can geo-locate you inside a store. It can then save that data as a unique identifier for when you return. Another company, Brickstream, uses video cameras to track customers, and the company argues that it’s no different than an etailer tracking which websites you visit and how often – though, to be fair, being watched in person is more like “big brother” than tracking cookies on Web page.

Nordstrom isn’t hiding, either. It has a sign that lets customers know it’s tracking them. “We did hear some complaints,” a spokeswoman told The New York Times. Go figure, in an age where privacy seems nonexistent, consumers have a right to be worried. One quick solution? Turn your phone off when you enter a store. The question that arises now, however, is what our privacy is worth. Are we willing to give it up for a 2-for-1 deal on jeans?

The New York Times VancityBuzz

Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...

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