Brick and mortar stores tracking your cell phone

Listen to Larry Magid’s CBS News/CNET Tech Talk about this subject

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By now you’re probably familiar with tracking cookies – tiny little files stored on your device that inform web sites about your identity. They don’t necessarily disclose exactly who you are, but they do give advertisers the ability to target ads directly to your device.

But what a lot of people may not know is that technology is also being used to track people when they visit brick and mortar stores. A fascinating article in the New York Times, Attention, Shoppers: Store Is Tracking Your Cell, describes how Nordstrom, Philz Coffee and other retailers are using their WiFi networks to track users’ cell phones while in the store. They can tell what part of the store you’re in and, for example, how long you’re lingering in the candy aisle or how often you’ve visited the shoe department and – when combined with video systems – they can also know your gender and whether you’re a child or an adult.

It’s even possible for the store to know your mood. The Times cites technology from London-based Realeyes, “which analyzes facial cues for responses to online ads, monitors shoppers’ so-called happiness levels in stores and their reactions at the register.” A Russian company, Synqera, according to the Times “is selling software for checkout devices or computers that tailors marketing messages to a customer’s gender, age and mood, measured by facial recognition.”

The Times quotes a Nordstrom spokesperson saying that the retailer dropped the surveillance program after analyzing customer comments.

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