Shopping centres 'spying' on customers

Rui Vieira/PA Wire

New monitoring technology used to analyse shopping habits has faced criticism from consumers and civil rights campaigners.

The system allows people to be tracked by their mobile phone signal, and gives shopping centres data on how long people stay, which are their favourite spots and the usual route they around the mall.
Shopping centres have argued that the FootPath system is of benefit to both customers and retailers, and they insist privacy is not compromised because individuals cannot be identified.

But campaigners take issue with the scheme, particularly that shoppers have no choice but to be monitored. Nick Pickles, from the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said that while he was pleased customers remained anonymous; "it is not good enough that the only way people can be sure they are not being tracked when they go shopping is to turn their phones off."


The technology has raised privacy concerns after it emerged that major shopping centre owner Land Securities has installed it at 10 of Britain's biggest malls.

Path Intelligence, the Hampshire-based company behind the FootPath scheme, refused to say how many shopping centres in the UK used the technology, or identify those which has installed it. It did however say that its technology is widespread on British high streets and 'major' chains already use the system.

The company argues however that its technology cannot obtain telephone numbers, listen to calls, read messages or identify the user. It also says that the information the system provides helps shopping centres to understand what mix of shops works best, how promotions affect the number of customers and can help optimise rents by finding out which spots are the most profitable.

It can also give an insight into where facilities such as food-courts or toilets are best sited and can help plan for emergencies, they explained.

Privacy invasions

A customer at the Princesshay shopping centre in Exeter, which uses the technology, told the Daily Mail: "This is another invasion of our privacy. We shouldn't have to switch off our phones to opt out. This is just spying on us."

Customers at Princesshay are informed the system is in use by small signs which read: "To improve out customer service we monitor the use of mobile phones to help show us how this centre is used by its customers. No personal data is stored at any time."

Gus Hosein, the executive director of Privacy International, told the Guardian: "Simply notifying people that their every move is being tracked does not absolve Path Intelligence or the shopping centres that install their technology. Until a proper opt-out is introduced, this technology will be a serious threat to personal privacy."

How do you feel about this? Should companies be allowed track your behaviour around shopping centres?

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