Trackers Trackers Everywhere

It’s not just the government which is tracking you

One, RetailNext, uses video footage to study how shoppers navigate, determining, say, that men spend only one minute in the coat department, which may help a store streamline its men’s outerwear layout. It also differentiates men from women, and children from adults.

RetailNext, based in San Jose, Calif., adds data from shoppers’ smartphones to deduce even more specific patterns. If a shopper’s phone is set to look for Wi-Fi networks, a store that offers Wi-Fi can pinpoint where the shopper is in the store, within a 10-foot radius, even if the shopper does not connect to the network, said Tim Callan, RetailNext’s chief marketing officer.

The store can also recognize returning shoppers, because mobile devices send unique identification codes when they search for networks. That means stores can now tell how repeat customers behave and the average time between visits.

NY Times

For all the consternation at the Snowden revelations of government collection of meta-data there has been little comment on similar corporate data collection. For my money this is a set of evil twins and I’m not sure at all which is more intrusive of our liberty and privacy: that which is, here and now, aiming to shape our every waking hour or that which may sweep us  into a life disrupting investigation. People are rightly worried about the latter but the former is constant, and insidious and even, to some extent, participatory.  There is a kind of magic in the ads appearing for shoes when that is what we are interested in; we appreciate a store layout that directs us to exactly what we want.  Our expectations and our lives become shaped by this. We want to live in the warm cocoon of perfect knowledge and satisfaction of our desires. There is a peverse pleasure in being known completely, a pleasure which obscures the realization that we are under constant watch, by others, for their own purposes.

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