Got A WiFi Enabled Phone? Stores Can Track You…. Yikes!

If you have a smartphone that has WiFi, and you visit retail stores, I have bad news for you. You’re being tracked:

How would they do it? Pretty simple really. When you come within range of a properly configured WiFi access point, it can record the wireless MAC address of your phone – a unique 12-digit number. Every time you pass by, that AP can log that number. If you enter that store or café every day, it will soon have a detailed record of when you (or at least your phone) entered and departed.

It gets better, or worse depending on your perspective:

From the retailer’s perspective, this information can be a virtual gold mine. For the first time they can easily track where customers go after they enter the store. They can identify repeat customers and first timers. They can find out whether shoppers are spending a lot of time in the toy aisle but rarely visit sporting goods or home appliances, and reconfigure the store layout accordingly. They can share data across different locations – to gauge whether the same customers spend more time in their discount outlets or shop at the locations closer to major freeway exits. They can even track people who walk by the store every day but never go in, or if more people enter after a window display is changed.

Needless to say, your privacy is at risk here. So what can you do? Two things come to mind. You can either turn off WiFi on your phone, or you can leave it at home before you go to the mall. Since these stores don’t tell you that they’re actually doing this sort of tracking, you’ll have no idea which stores to avoid. That’s not good.

Perhaps it’s time for some laws that regulate this sort of thing?

One Response to “Got A WiFi Enabled Phone? Stores Can Track You…. Yikes!”

  1. […] rotated many times a day and are never reused. In short, this will protect you from scenarios like this one, or this one that were related to being tracked via WiFi which forced Apple to do something to […]

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