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    Tracking Individuals Through Their Mobile Phones

    Schneier on Security highlights a Times UK story, “Shops track customers via mobile phone.”

    The surveillance mechanism works by monitoring the signals produced by mobile handsets and then locating the phone by triangulation measuring the phone’s distance from three receivers.

    It has already been installed in two shopping centres, including Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, and three more centres will begin using it next month, Times Online has learnt.

    [….]

    The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expressed cautious approval of the technology, which does not identify the owner of the phone but rather the handset’s IMEI code — a unique number given to every device so that the network can recognise it.

    The technology isn’t new – GPS, triangulating and tracking technology is how Google Maps can show you “where you are” on your iPhone and give directions to your destination. What is new is the fact that stores are openly admitting that are using this human-tracking technology to gather marketing data.

    Currently, the stores are not seeking to link purchases with individuals, but it could easily be done. How long before the stores decide they want to link people to their purchases? How long before the phone companies, which can match IMEI data to phone owners, are willing to sell this data to stores? I advise reading the lively debate about privacy and security issues in the comments section of Schneier’s post.

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