When Black Friday becomes Black Spyday

Shopping malls in Southern California and Virginia will be tracking customers' cell phones this holiday season -- without asking permission. This needs to stop. UPDATE: It has stopped -- for now, at least.

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In preparation for the big holiday shopping season, most malls are stocking their shelves. But some are stalking their customers.

According to a report by CNN Money, malls in Virginia and Southern California are planning to track the cell phones of their customers starting on Black Friday. The Promenade in Temecula and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond have implemented a system called Footpath Technology that can identify the unique ID of every cell phone and trace each handset’s movements throughout the mall. They’re turning it on today and planning to keep it running through the entire holiday shopping period.

Can you say ‘creepy’? I knew that you could.

The data collected is anonymized; mall operators won’t have any other information about shoppers’ phones besides the ID, so they’ll be like blips on a radar screen. They won’t know your name or what you bought. They’ll just know what stores your phone visited and in what order.

Per CNN:

The management company of both malls, Forest City Commercial Management, says personal data is not being tracked.

"We won't be looking at singular shoppers," said Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, vice president of digital strategy for Forest City. "The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to.”

Forget migrating birds. Think Angry Birds. If you shop at one of these malls, your movements will be tracked. Don’t like it? Per the report: “Customers can opt out by turning off their phones.”

In other words: If you don’t want these creeps following you, you must turn off the device you probably spend hundreds of dollars a month to use, in a place where you’re most likely to need it, all so someone else can conduct market research – using your shopping habits, without obtaining your permission, for free.

The only notice that shoppers will have are small placards placed in the malls that read “We are conducting an anonymous mobile phone survey to help us enhance your shopping experience.”

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