There’s no sign of the shopping season waning in the next couple of weeks with Christmas around the corner.
Shoppers will be flocking to shopping malls and retail stores to fill up stockings and buy gifts for their loved ones until the last minute. And while some retailers will be interested in how much they spend, others will be keen to track their movements around the stores. How?
The answer is simple. Via smartphone.
Smartphone tracking isn’t something new. In August 2013, the City of London Corporation asked a company to stop using recycling bins to track the smartphones of passers-by.
"The key problem is it’s impossible for consumers to know because technology is monitoring your phone," said Dr Ian Brown, associate director, Oxford University Cyber Security Centre. "It is not sending signals back to you, so even if you had the right electronic equipment, you couldn’t tell technology is being used to track you."
Recent research suggests tracking is big business in the US with over $175m being privately invested in this kind of technology. A few retail sources say it is widespread in the UK but declined to be named. The British Retail Consortium and the British Council of Shopping Centres declined to comment.
However, as a consumer, there are ways to protect yourself from being tracked. AVG Technologies has launched a new app to block retailers from accessing smartphones and ensure consumers have an enjoyable experience in stores and shopping centres.
The WiFi Do Not Track feature within the AVG PrivacyFix for Android suspends WiFi on a user’s phone when they’re out and about, only reconnecting when they’re close to trusted WiFi locations like their home, office or favourite coffee shop.
The feature stops smartphones from transmitting their unique MAC address which retailers and marketers have begun using to track the movement of shoppers based on physical location. Retailers are using the information to count visitors in their shops, optimise store layouts or measure the effectiveness of mobile advertising.
"Using WiFi technology to capture our location data in stores provides retailers with analytics. The problem is that consumers have limited notice of these activities, often no opportunity to opt out, and many may not realise they are even being observed in this way," said Gary Kovacs, chief executive at AVG Technologies.
The problem is not only with tracking, but how the information is then siphoned off to retailers.
According to Jim Brock, vice president of Privacy Products at AVG Technologies, "The commercialisation of WiFi tracking of shoppers appears to be on the rise with companies offering such services to retailers. Yet often these services fail to provide assurance of basic encryption protection of your device identifier.
"AVG PrivacyFix gives individuals the choice and control over their privacy that the industry has yet to provide. Until we see broadly accepted and protective industry standards in place to regulate smartphone tracking in the real-world, consumers need to fend for themselves. We're here to make that easier."
For a better understanding of how AVG PrivacyFix works, see the video below.
This article has been written by AVG Technologies.