Cell phone consumer tracking at US malls shut down

November 30, 2011 by Dave Haynes

There was a substantial fuss stirred up last  week with word that a couple of shopping malls in the US (the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, VA) were doing a little consumer intelligence using cellphone-tracking technology.

That technology just established shopper patterns as people moved around the malls and didn’t acquire and store any personal data, but it was enough to prompt a prominent US Senator – Chuck Shumer of New York – to fire off a letter to the Federal Trade Commission – complaining that a “shopper should not have to choose between the ability to be in touch with friends and family in case of emergency and safeguarding her privacy.”

Shumer said the suggestion that consumers who didn’t want to be tracked could just turn off their phones was unacceptable.

The malls went the “Never Mind” route and shut the tracking down after a day.

Turns out the company doing the tracking was Path Intelligence, which recently announced a partnership with ComQi with the idea that the sort of data generated by this technology could offer a lot of insight into consumer journeys and, by extension, programming and screen placement decisions.

I like this stuff and assuming privacy code of conduct are in place and enforced, it has the potential to make networks more effective. But just like anonymous video analytics, this technology has to win the confidence of a lot of people who, right or wrong, see their privacy being eroded even when what they do is tracked as nothing more than a teeny part of a big aggregate of data.

What would seem, on the surface, like a great technology partner for ComQi might not really be the case if mall operators and retailers conclude the LAST thing they want to do is alienate shoppers and distance themselves from companies like Path.


  1. Kevin Golding says:

    Dave, I like this idea a great deaql for many applications, not the least of which is media deployment (digital, static or event marketing). But, having worked extensively with some of the largest malls for the past number of years – and knowing some of the good folks at Forest City, this is a big ‘oops’. Malls take the privacy of their shoppers very seriously, without any notification to the consumers (at the very least) they were stepping on dangerous ground. Good call to have it killed, perhaps with better planning and communication, it can be revamped.

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