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.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.