Follow the shoppers, follow the money

Your favorite stores and restaurants are using your phone's Bluetooth to watch you shop. Part III of my series on retail tracking. UPDATE: WirelessWerx responds.

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There are so many problems with that I don’t know where to begin. Using that logic, you could argue having Bluetooth turned on implies consent for someone to hack your phone using a Bluetooth exploit. And then there’s the notion that I have to turn off a feature of a phone I pay a lot of money for each month because someone else has decided to use it in a way I don’t like. This is a troubling trend, to put it mildly.

I don’t think WirelessWerx has bad intentions for you or your data. But what about the next company that sniffs your Bluetooth? How do you know they’re not trying to marry this information to our purchases or otherwise abuse this data without telling anyone?

The answer is, you don’t. In fact, unless you’ve read this blog post or make a point of closely following the retail analytics industry, you wouldn’t even think to ask.

[Note: This story was updated slightly to clarify the source of Blattner's quote.]

UPDATE: About a week after this was published I received an email response from WirelessWerx Director of Marketing Kellie Peterson. I've received her permission to excerpt the relevant bits here:

I wanted clarify a few points that relate to your post. First, we may have oversimplified when discussing the airports' intent; our technology is primarily being deployed to help manage traffic flow in order to get people to their gates more quickly. We believe over time it will be an additional goal of airports to help improve the shopping experience for consumers, and our products can also add value in this regard.

With cameras, security personnel, employee monitors, credit card purchasing, etc. already widely deployed in retail, WirelessWERX has one of the least invasive technologies—especially since absolutely no personal information can EVER be tracked back to the consumer as an individual.

Our mission is to help our clients thrive and to do that they must deliver outstanding value, innovation and exceptional consumer experiences. We’ve developed a number of statistical sampling research tools that allow us to provide insights into aggregate traffic trends without compromising privacy in any way. It would be erroneous to suggest those consumers are personally tracked when our entire methodology is built around aggregated, but relatively small statistical samples. No retailer could ever associate our data with a specific purchase or with an individual consumer's behavior as our data is only collected and presented in aggregate form.

We are very focused on compliance with all privacy laws. But we also understand that even if you’re following the law, certain types of approaches may make people uncomfortable. This is why we maintain such rigorous privacy protocols and sampling-based methodologies. Our clients are in compliance with all federal and state laws as well, including those related to personal information. If a customer downloads an in-store app that utilizes our platform, they would be subject to the terms of use as presented by the app.

See also:

Part I: Attention shoppers: Retailers can now track you across the mall

Part II: If you shop til you drop, will they track when you come back?

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