How Stores Are Spying On You
High-resolution video cameras monitor all areas in and outside the store. With facial-recognition software, your mug shot can be captured and digitally filed. Ditto for your car’s license plate. Stores don’t provide sufficient disclosure, so you can’t opt out to protect your privacy.
Gaze trackers are hidden in tiny holes in the shelving and detect which brands you’re looking at and how long for each. There are even mannequins whose eyes are cameras that detect age, sex, ethnicity, and facial expression.
Your mobile phone is an excellent device for tracking your shopping route. Retailer tracking systems can identify individual shoppers by monitoring your phone’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity number (constantly transmitted from all cell phones to their service providers) or Media Access Control address (transmitted when the device’s Wi-Fi is enabled, which is the default setting on most devices).
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags placed on the merchandise detect when you pick up an item. They can trigger a nearby digital sign to feed you targeted ads or details about the product. Kiosks and interactive touch screens often do the same thing.
If all of this is news to you, it’s probably because disclosure is poor to nonexistent, say experts familiar with these practices. Also, odds are you’ve never read or decoded what you’ve agreed to in bank, retailer, and app privacy policies. And you probably never imagined that retailers would be so interested in spying on honest shoppers. “While most consumers understand a need for security cameras, few expect that the in-store video advertising monitor they’re watching … is watching them” with a pinhole camera, says Pam Dixon, executive director of World Privacy Forum.
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