Tracked at the mall
The more people know about this kind of tracking (which can of course be paired with other information like your browsing history to build up a more detailed profile of who you are) the better. But until people show they care about the issue, it’s just going to continue, because there’s no reason for those who do it to stop.
App-based location tracking is something you can control. You can stop apps accessing location services on your phone, or you can delete the apps altogether. There’s another kind of location tracking that isn’t quite so simple to deal with, as you might not have heard of it, let alone consented to it.
Footfall analytics is the name for a broad range of techniques retailers and operators of other public spaces use to understand who visits them. For example, it could involve cameras that count and roughly profile the age and gender of passersby, or it could be wifi-based. Some wifi hotspot operators have found that rather than just sell connectivity, they can sell data about who connects to their service.
You don’t necessarily have to sign into a hotspot and use it for the tracking to begin. Your device could just be pinging nearby hotspots to see what options are available should you want to connect. If your phone is detected (via its MAC address) every day in a local shopping mall at lunchtime, well, they know there’s a regular customer right there.
It’s unclear from the digging I’ve done into this of late how much this data is tied in with adtech. Do these footfall data sets get crosschecked against other adtech data so the shopping mall (or others) can advertise to you on your favourite sites? Or does that only happen if you log in to a hotpsot and consent to being contacted?
GDPR has a part to play with this – at least in the EU – but this tech is generally so invisible that the details of how it works fly under the radar, invisible to consumer and the policymakers.
We may be slowly becoming more savvy about how we hand out data about ourselves, but when it’s collected without our knowledge, what can we do?