This past Black Friday, two shopping centers decided it would be a good idea to track shopper's physical locations via their cell phones. The malls -- Promenade Temecula in California and Short Pump Town Center in Virginia -- put up small signs notifying people of this plan and telling shoppers that they only way to avoid the tracking was to turn off their cell phones.
If there's any place that most people don't want to turn off their cell phones, it's probably the mall. And if there's any time that marketers should want people to stay connected, it's when they're shopping -- especially given all of the new mobile apps aimed at consumers.
Perhaps some consumers don't object to that type of surveillance, but surely most people would prefer to be able to choose whether they're tracked this way. News of the malls' plans prompted Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to protest to Path Intelligence -- the British company that markets FootPath technology, which tracks people's location by monitoring the signal from their cell phones. “A shopper should not have to choose between the ability to be in touch with friends and family in case of emergency and safeguarding her privacy,” he wrote in a letter to Path Intelligence CEO Sharon Biggar.
“I am concerned that the information Path Intelligence collects could easily fall into the wrong hands and be used to connect personally identifiable data with a shopper's geophysical location and movements,” he wrote. He added that this type of data shouldn't be collected without people's opt-in consent.
Schumer also asked the Federal Trade Commission how FootPath “fits into broader US privacy rules and regulations, and whether our law and policy needs to be updated to address the new kinds of monitoring that innovative technologies allow.”
The two malls originally intended to deploy the technology through the end of the year, but stopped doing so -- at least temporarily -- after receiving Schumer's letter.