18 May 2008
Who’s got your number?

Shops secretly track customers via mobile phone (Jonathan Richards, Times Online).

Using receivers deployed throughout a building. the system tracks handsets via triangulation. It’s accurate to within a few feet, enough to tell which individual stores are visited, and for how long.

The system tracks phones by the unique IMEI code, so technically[1] no personal information is gathered. The surveillance system simply monitors the radio traffic from handsets directly, not going through the phone network.

But actually there are two sets of data:

* Shopping mall: IMEI -> anonymous shopping spree
* Phone company: IMEI -> particular customer[2]

It’s only a SMOP to tie these two data sets together. Not that anyone (or any company (or any organization)) would ever have access to both sets of data. Don’t even think that. It could never happen. After all, there are rules.

Among other fascinating details, the article says, “Sharon Biggar, [Path Intelligence]’s chief operating officer, said that one of the stores which had already deployed the receivers did not want its name revealed for fear of alarming its customers.”

Are you afraid of alarming your customers? I think that is called a clue.

[1] Technically: A noise-word that’s meant to alleviate fear and suspicion. Contrast with practically or reality.
[2] Technically, the IMEI isn’t tied to the customer, but many network and feature sets require them to be correlated.

Category: Life-Society, Sci-Tech
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