The FTC began its Spring Privacy Workshop series last week with a panel discussion on mobile device tracking in retail stores. While many panel members emphasized the benefits to consumers that can result from stores’ tracking of individual smartphones and other networked devices, we have concerns about consumer privacy, including consent requirements, retention and use provisions, and data security. We hope that the FTC will take into account these considerations as it grapples with the regulation and enforcement issues that arise from retail device tracking.
First, a brief overview of how stores can currently track your devices. Mobile devices that have WiFi or Bluetooth enabled broadcast a unique number called a MAC address while searching for area WiFi networks or Bluetooth devices. Stores can monitor what MAC addresses are being broadcasted within a specific area at a particular moment, and create a profile that contains location and duration data. Using analytics software, stores can see what a particular device (and its owner) did over time, as well as see general customer browsing trends and traffic patterns. An example of a possible benefit to consumers would be a customer who frequents the baking supply aisle in a grocery store could, over time, receive coupons for brown sugar or flour. Beyond this, tracking could help with fraud prevention and deter shoplifting.
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