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On February 19, 2014, the Federal Trade Commission staff hosted a seminar on Mobile Device Tracking.
The speakers discussed how retailers and other businesses have been tracking consumers’ movements throughout and around retail stores and other attractions using technologies that identify signals emitted by their mobile devices. While the technologies differ, many work by identifying and collecting the MAC address – which is unique to a particular device – broadcast when a mobile device searches for Wi-Fi networks. Companies can use these technologies to reveal information about consumers including the path taken throughout a location, length of time in one location, whether a visitor is new or returning, and the frequency of visits to a location. According to media reports, major retailers in the United States are using or have tested the technology in their stores in order to gain insights into the behavior of their customers.
In most cases, this tracking is invisible to consumers and occurs with no consumer interaction. As a result, the use of these technologies raises a number of potential privacy concerns and questions.