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    Wall Street Journal: Tracking Technology Sheds Light on Shopper Habits

    The Wall Street Journal reports on retailers’ moves to track shoppers in their stores, which has implications for individual privacy:

    This holiday season, Santa will have extra helpers at the mall: devices that track shoppers. In dozens of U.S. shopping centers, small gadgets—perhaps tucked near the queue for a photo with Santa—will keep tabs on shoppers’ cellphones. Elsewhere, trackers sprinkled around the centers identify shoppers’ movements, helping mall operators and retailers tally how long people wait in line and where they shop.

    Such technology has been creeping into commerce for years. Now, it is becoming commonplace. The Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank, estimates that about 1,000 retailers, from tiny boutiques to Macy’s Inc., have outfitted their aisles with sensors to monitor shoppers’ paths. The stores hope that insights from the data will give them an edge over competitors, including online merchants. […]

    To some people, the spread of tracking technology raises concerns about shoppers’ privacy. Some Nordstrom Inc. customers complained on social-media sites and directly to the retailer last spring after it used Wi-Fi signals from smartphones to track customer movement in 17 stores. The retailer had posted signs to notify shoppers about the test, which ended in May. Nordstrom said it was seeking trends about general shopping behavior and didn’t collect information about individuals. […]

    The Future of Privacy Forum asks retailers that use tracking technology to notify shoppers through signs or other means. Eight companies that make tracking gear, including Euclid, in October agreed to ask clients to post disclosures, but the idea went nowhere with retailers.

    Forest City posts signs in its malls. Ms. Shriver-Engdahl says the company doesn’t collect personal data from shoppers’ phones and urges more transparency on the part of retailers and tracking companies. “Rational human beings would understand that there is nothing to be fearful about,” she says.

    Privacy concerns have prompted some retailers to hold off on tracking technology. “People just don’t want to feel like they’re being followed around the store,” says Robert Cohen, retail vice president for clothier Patagonia Inc., which doesn’t use tracking technology.

    Read the full article (registration may be required) to learn about how other stores are using tracking technology.

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