Someone’s WatchingFebruary 9th, 2012 | |
Malls are scary: contagion glazed children touching everything, warring tribes of preteens lurking at each right angle, the caustic mix of air between Cinnabon and the perfume display in JC Penny, and of course you’re being followed. Your most trusted companion, your phone, is reporting your every move to servers for Path Intelligence, an England-based company. That little Benedict Arnold…
According to Path Intelligence, their product, FootPath, “can gather information on pedestrian behaviour and flow on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day 365 days a year, using mobile phone technology.”
FootPath works by placing monitoring units throughout the mall. These units pick up your cell phone signal and triangulate your position to within about six feet, allowing FootPath to track how you move about the mall and understand what makes you tick as a consumer. Do you gorge at Sbarro and then crawl with shame to Champs Sports? Spend an hour in FYE and then sneak out the back?
The malls using this technology do post signage, and you can turn off your phone if you don’t want to be tracked. Needless to say, there’s been an uproar by people concerned about their privacy, including U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), who sent letters to malls planning to implement the technology. In one letter, Schumer wrote, “A shopper should not have to choose between the ability to be in touch with friends and family in case of emergency and safeguarding her privacy.”
Some plans to install FootPath have been canceled or delayed due to security concerns. Path Intelligence is trying to assure people that the technology is safe. They state on their website, “At no time do we intercept any personal information and that includes mobile phone numbers. At all times shoppers remain anonymous to us.” Path Intelligence also notes that they do not collect or store information that could lead to identification.
Is this less imposing than security cameras that capture images of you and are really watching to see if you’re up to something? It’s a matter of degree. The cameras don’t seamlessly trace your path from the time you walk into the mall until the time you walk out. FootPath does. Like many developments in data mining, it’s the invasive potential of the technology that concerns people rather than the potential for a more feng shui mall experience.