Your Phone Is Helping Stores Spy on You

Retailers tracking your location, patterns

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 15, 2013 11:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – These days, it's not just online retailers that are tracking consumers' every move: Physical stores are doing it, too, thanks to video footage and the smartphone in your pocket. Companies want to know which customers are returning, which sections they're visiting, and even which way they turn after viewing a display, the New York Times reports. Nordstrom's, for example, tested a system wherein the WiFi signals from customers' phones traced their movements, but a rep says the practice was ended following complaints.

Shops from Family Dollar to Benetton are looking into the systems, which can track more than just your position. London firm RealEyes detects customers' facial expressions to make guesses about their purchasing interests. Russian company Synqera offers a similar service for the checkout counter: "If you are an angry man of 30, and it is Friday evening, it may offer you a bottle of whiskey," says an exec. "Brick-and-mortar stores have been disadvantaged compared with online retailers, which get people’s digital crumbs," says a Cisco exec. But some customers find the physical tracking a little scarier: "The idea that you’re being stalked in a store is, I think, a bit creepy" compared to online cookies—which "don’t really know who I am," says a shopper.

This May 9, 2013 photo shows a Nordstrom sign at a shopping mall in Brea, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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