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Malls Track Shoppers' Cell Phones On Black Friday 198

antdude writes in with a story about two U.S. malls that plan on tracking shoppers' movements by monitoring the signals from their cell phones this Friday. "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.' Still, the company is preemptively notifying customers by hanging small signs around the shopping centers. Consumers can opt out by turning off their phones."
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Malls Track Shoppers' Cell Phones On Black Friday

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  • Opt out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elgonn ( 921934 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:07PM (#38152404)
    "Consumers can opt out by turning off their phones."
    I guess by that metric people who don't go there are also opting out.
  • opt out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:07PM (#38152410)

    >Consumers can opt out by turning off their phones.

    I can opt out of billboards by not driving and staying at home. I can opt out of spam by not having an email account.

    opt out, I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

  • Jammers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrQuacker ( 1938262 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:10PM (#38152446)

    What will happen if you walk around with a jammer in your pocket/bag?

  • Not as abusive YET (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdamJS ( 2466928 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:11PM (#38152456)

    But some day soon, it will be.
    When there's a large enough pool of data on given subset of users "Anon" F through Q, analytical processes and programs will be able to determine when a member of said subset appears somewhere.

    Using inter-subset heuristics, this information could be refined further to detail the habits of the individuals, such as Anon M.

    While still technically "Anonymous", it would require a very, very small pool of data and additional research/tracking to determine who that Anonymous user actually is.

    The technology is almost (if not already) there, and the real setback at the moment is simply not having all of that data yet.

  • Get used to it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macwhizkid ( 864124 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:17PM (#38152522)

    I'd be surprised if other large commercial destinations (malls, amusement parks, sporting venues, etc) aren't using this tech already. It's not like these two malls invented it themselves, and even if they're the first to use it, it must have been beta tested somewhere.

    I think we can agree that the "we won't be looking at singular shoppers" reassurance is completely ridiculous. As though there's some algorithm to digitally count the devices on a network and track their locations without, umm, actually counting them? The only question is how long the data is stored.

    At the same time, even opting out now is pointless, as we've established that the phone company, the police, and the FBI all have access to your phone's location tracking information. It's a bit late to worry about whether or not to use things like Apple's "Find My Friends" app. Best to avoid owning a cell phone altogether if you're worried about being tracked, or at least leave it behind (and turn it off) when you don't want to be followed.

  • by kent_eh ( 543303 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:23PM (#38152574)
    It will enhance the mall's experience of you shopping.
    Just like those "customer loyalty" thingies. Do you really thing they are for *your* benefit?

    They will use it to improve their ability to get money out of your pocket and into theirs.
    Why do I want to help them do that??
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:29PM (#38152636) Homepage Journal

    But the way they uses this information to get money is by offering things people want.

    Dude, they don't use it to grab money out of your wallet.
    They don't care about YOU. they care about the patterns of movement in the mall.
    Benefits to you:
    A) Better mall layout
    B) better crowd control
    C) Accurate information on shopping habits
    D) more stuff more people want.

  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:35PM (#38152708)

    It's interesting to see the contrast in comments between this story, and the recent Google WiFi Geolocation Opt-Out story: []

    While in the case of Google's geolocation services the common argument is that your SSID/MAC needn't be identifying and you're broadcasting it so one has no right to complain anyway... it's almost the complete opposite. Here the broadcasted information is for one's own benefit (the ability to use a cell phone) and it doesn't matter that the information isn't necessarily identifying it's still evil to collect it.

    This despite the SSID likely originating from a private (or business) residence, while your cellphone's signal is originating within another business' location.

    Now obviously there are differences, and the people commenting may not be the same, but I wonder if what's really the difference isn't the fact that there's likely to be little benefit to somebody that cell phone signals are being tracked*, versus the major benefit of faster / less power-hungry geolocation from recording WiFi locations.

    ( * Supported by the notion that most people don't seem to take much issue with e.g. TomTom partnering with cell providers to detect traffic trends in order to warn users of their navigation devices/software of, among other, traffic jams - as obviously that's a major benefit to the user. )

  • Re:opt out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:42PM (#38152780)

    I can "opt out" by telling the retails to go fuck themselves.

    In fact, I think I'll call a few of them right now and tell them why they just lost customers. I can "opt out" by taking my business elsewhere.

  • Re:Opt-In (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:52PM (#38152892)

    I do find the many conflicting faces of slashdot amusing

    You do realise that Slashdot is a web site where thousands of different people post their opinions and not a single person, right? And that one person who thinks A is probably not the same person who things not-A?

  • Re:Opt out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:26PM (#38153298)

    Well, at least you chaps over in the US aren't alone. I submitted a story about six weeks ago [] about two malls in Australia that were using the exact same technology. It made the local papers here [], but never prominently.

    It's okay, soon, we will forget about it and given that other countries are also doing it, we will accept it as the norm.

    *sips coffee*

  • by B1oodAnge1 ( 1485419 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:30PM (#38153326)

    The end result is the same. Less money in my pocket. And I'm supposed to be happy about that.

    To be fair, the end result is twofold: less money in your pocket and more "things" in your house.

    If you engage in a commercial transaction that does not provide added value to you, then you are entirely at fault.

  • Re:opt out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:42PM (#38153432)
    I suggest you call your friends first and then the mall; boycotting is pointless if one is the only person doing it.
  • Re:Jammers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:06PM (#38153672) Journal

    Jammer? Hell, I was curious to see what would happen if I swapped out the SIM card from the phone every time I walk into a different store, or perhaps at random? Gather the whole family's pile o' SIMs, and maybe a couple of expired ones (they still work for emergency calls, so odds are good their signal will pick up).

    I figure if enough folks did that in one mall (say, 100-200 people?), the algorithms would show enough crap data to basically have the management demanding their money back from the company that sold it to 'em.

    Even better... I wonder what would happen if you and enough cohorts went to the mall, selected some bits to buy at different stores, walked up to the counter, and proclaimed to the cashier that "this is what I would have bought if your mall wasn't so invasive of my privacy by tracking my cell signal", then walk out, leaving the goods on the counter unpaid-for.

  • Re:opt out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @11:32PM (#38155224)

    It's funny how people don't seem so nutso when you have a clearer understanding of a topic.

    That's one of the most widely recognized yet unwritten rules of Slashdot. I'm one of the few stubborn non-conformists who don't follow it.

    The rule goes: "never miss an opportunity to be condescending and talk to someone like they must be a total idiot -- if they say anything that could be interpreted in an absurd way, don't EVER assume that maybe you have misunderstood them because that would mean missing an opportunity to meet your desperate need to feel superior to random strangers who have done you no harm."

    It goes along with other rules such as "never infer anything on your own -- be deliberately dense, mechanically and literally interpret everything, and impatiently require that every possible nuance of a subject be spelled out for you" and "if you dislike something, or it offends you, or you wish it weren't true, it must be factually incorrect and you have no burden of proof when you claim it has been falsified" and "Googling an unfamiliar term takes a whole 20 seconds if you are particularly slow and this is such a terrible burden it is better to spend 10 minutes asking other people to do it for you and report back on the results."

    It could be called sacrificing one's dignity at the altar of the ego.

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