Starting on Black Friday and running through the entire shopping season, the Promenade Temecula shopping mall in southern California and Short Pump Town Center shopping mall in Richmond, Virginia plan to track customers locations within the mall by monitoring cell phone signals as reported by CNN earlier today. The malls intend to follow the path of each shopper and collect data to understand typical shopping patterns. While the malls claim that the data collected will be anonymous, mall officials will be able to tell which portion of the mall is unpopular, the amount of time that people spend inside a particular store and which stores compliment each other based off customer behavior.
The malls do plan to alert customers of the tracking program and encourage shoppers to turn off the cell phone while shopping. However, it’s unlikely that customers will turn off their main device for communication and busy shoppers may miss the notifications posted within the mall. Forest City Commercial Management is the company that manages both malls and equates the tracking program to monitoring migratory patterns of birds. The name of the tracking system is FootPath Technology and uses a group of antennas that monitor the unique identification number used by each phone while the customer travels through the shopping mall.
It’s impossible for FootPath Technology to tie identifying personal details to the cell phones without the cooperation of wireless providers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. The system also cannot capture personal information being transmitted from the phones like text messages or photos. The system is designed by a British company called Path Intelligence and has been rolled out within shopping centers in both Europe and Australia. Both Home Depot and JCPenney are both considering rolling out the tracking system in stores, but haven’t made any official announcements regarding a potential launch.