– ‘Creepy’ Path Intelligence retail technology tracks shoppers (news.com.au, Oct. 14, 2011):
SHOPPING centres will monitor customers’ mobile phones to track how often they visit, which stores they like and how long they stay. The technology, brought to Australia by a UK-based company, has prompted a call for privacy or telephone intercept regulators to investigate.
One unnamed Queensland shopping centre is next month due to become the first in the nation to fit receivers that detect unique mobile phone radio frequency codes to pinpoint location within two metres.
The company behind the Footpath system says it is also in discussions with other major Australian sites.
Path Intelligence national sales manager Kerry Baddeley stressed that no mobile phone user names or numbers could be accessed.
“All we do is log the movement of a phone around an area and aggregate this to provide trend data for businesses,” she said.
“It’s much less intrusive or invasive than existing people-counting methods, for instance CCTV cameras and number plate monitoring.”
Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Dr Roger Clarke said emerging retail tracking techniques were “seriously creepy” and should be thoroughly investigated.
Prominent signs should notify and seek consent from customers, he said.
Some shops are already using image-monitoring to log customers’ movements, how long they stop in front of products, and whether they are male or female.
Federal Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said the Privacy Act applied only if the information collected identified individuals.
Ms Baddeley said mobile phone monitoring, already operating in the UK and US, would help the struggling retail sector develop marketing campaigns and identify the best mix of shops in centres.
She said receivers attached to walls picked up phone transmissions. Data was then fed via the internet to computer servers to create weekly reports outlining popular customer routes and visitors’ length of stay.
The shopping centre in question said it planned a public announcement once the system was running.
Retailers have been enthusiastic users of hand-held technology, with online auction site eBay yesterday announcing it planned to add image recognition to its mobile offerings early next year.
That will mean shoppers can snap photos of items they covet, such as the dress a friend is wearing, and an eBay app will find similar items for sale on its website.
The image recognition plan sounds similar to Google Inc’s Google Goggles smartphone app, which lets users photograph text or certain types of objects that Google then searches for on the internet.