The Wall Street Journal delves into the issue of what information your mobile phone is sending to others about you:
Fan Zhang, the owner of Happy Child, a trendy Asian restaurant in downtown Toronto, knows that 170 of his customers went clubbing in November. He knows that 250 went to the gym that month, and that 216 came in from Yorkville, an upscale neighborhood.
And he gleans this information without his customers’ knowledge, or ever asking them a single question.
Mr. Zhang is a client of Turnstyle Solutions Inc., a year-old local company that has placed sensors in about 200 businesses within a 0.7 mile radius in downtown Toronto to track shoppers as they move in the city.
The sensors, each about the size of a deck of cards, follow signals emitted from Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones. That allows them to create portraits of roughly 2 million people’s habits as they have gone about their daily lives, traveling from yoga studios to restaurants, to coffee shops, sports stadiums, hotels, and nightclubs. […]
But Turnstyle is among the few that have begun using the technology more broadly to follow people where they live, work and shop. The company’s dense network of sensors can track any phone that has Wi-Fi turned on, enabling the company to build profiles of consumers lifestyles.
Turnstyle’s weekly reports to clients use aggregate numbers and don’t include people’s names. But the company does collect the names, ages, genders, and social media profiles of some people who log in with Facebook to a free Wi-Fi service that Turnstyle runs at local restaurants and coffee shops, including Happy Child. It uses that information, along with the wider foot traffic data, to come up dozens lifestyle categories, including yoga-goers, people who like theater, and hipsters. […]
But as the industry grows in prominence, location trackers are bound to ignite privacy concerns. A company could, for example, track people’s visits to specialist doctors or hospitals and sell that data to marketers. […]
In the U.S., companies don’t have to get a consent before collecting and sharing most personal information, including their location. A bill, proposed by Minnesota Senator Al Franken, would require consent before collecting location data. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission settled its first location privacy case in December, against an app developer that misled consumers into believing their location data wouldn’t be sold to marketers.