2011-12-09 / Top Stories

Schumer Warns Of Holiday Shopping Tracker

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed that this holiday season, retailers are beginning to adopt technology that tracks consumers’ shopping patterns through their cell phones while they patronize the mall and other retail locations. “FootPath technology” automatically tracks shoppers’ movements by monitoring the signal from their personal cell phones with antennas set up throughout malls and stores. If a shopper does not want to be tracked, their only option is to turn off their cell phone. Schumer has urged the developer of the technology to gain consent from shoppers before they begin to track their movements through their cell phones by using an opt-in mechanism. Schumer also called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to explore how this new technology fits into regulatory controls dealing with consumer privacy.

“A shopper’s personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers who are seeking to determine holiday shopping patterns,” said Schumer. “Personal cell phones are just that – personal. If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so. It shouldn’t be up to the consumer to turn their cell phone off when they walk into the mall to ensure they aren’t being virtually tailed.”

“FootPath technology,” manufactured by the British company Path Intelligence, allows retailers and malls to set up antennas to track cell phones through an identification number that is unique to that phone. While the technology is already in place in malls in Europe and Australia, it has never before been used in the United States.

Path Intelligence insists that shoppers’ information is kept anonymous and that consumers who don’t want to be tracked can turn off their personal cell phones when they enter the mall or a retailer. Schumer argued that if the tracking system and the phone company were hacked it could compromise personal information on shoppers’ cell phones and that requiring someone to shut off his or her phone in order not to be tracked is an unacceptable option. p

Two U.S. malls adopted this technology but halted implementation on Friday after Schumer raised privacy concerns, and Schumer praised these malls for their actions. However, according to news reports, other retailers, including JC Penney and Home Depot, are still considering adopting the technology.

In a letter to Path Intelligence CEO Sharon Biggar, Schumer urged the company to obtain the explicit consent of shoppers’ through an opt-in policy in order to protect their privacy. Schumer noted that requiring consumers to optout by turning off their phones would be unduly burdensome for shoppers who rely on cell phones to communicate with one another and with their family, and that shoppers should not be forced to make a choice. Schumer continued, “To add insult to injury, this company says the only way to opt-out is to turn off your phone. But shoppers shouldn’t have to turn off their phones just to protect their privacy, and asking parents or children to turn off their phones when they rely on them to stay connected is simply unacceptable.”

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