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Shopping Centers Track Customers Via Cell Phone Signals

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the video-store-back-room-third-shelf-left-side dept.

Privacy 317

oschobero writes "According an article from the Times, customers in shopping centers are having their every move tracked. Using cellphone signals, the system can tell when people enter the center, how long they stay in a particular shop, and what route each customer takes. The system works by monitoring the signals produced by mobile handsets and then locating the phone by triangulation." The particular tracking device described by the article is made by an English company called Path Intelligence.

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Turn off the phone? (0)

Drakin020 (980931) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455286)

I would say just turn off your phone, but I think the signal still carries.

Or you could just leave it at home.

Re:Turn off the phone? (5, Informative)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455294)

No, if you turn it off, it's off.

At least on every phone I've owned.

Re:Turn off the phone? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455382)

ask Hans Reiser about that

Re:Turn off the phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455594)

Hans took out the battery, which was unnecessary and looked suspicious.

it's not unnecessary (1, Flamebait)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455678)

The UK and USA governments have both used cellphones to listen in on private conversations WHILE A CALL WAS NOT BEING MADE. Even CNN verifies this. Basically -- taking the battery out IS necessary if you want true privacy with NO chance of interference. And that's just one of many reasons why I would never get the piece of crap called the iPhone.

Re:it's not unnecessary (-1, Offtopic)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455694)

"Karma: Bad (mostly from not giving a fuck)"

This is the 4th flamebait post I've seen from you in two articles. The other being the Futurama movie article. Maybe that's why you've got bad karma?

heh (0, Offtopic)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455744)

I just got a 5 the other day...

But no.. I actually don't know that I have bad karma. I don't care enough to check. So the real reason would truly be from not giving a fuck. But thank you for your interest. :)

Re:heh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455874)

Oh, okay... Except that you're a borderline troll.

Re:heh (0, Troll)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455918)

Thanks... I like being borderline. I'm not a joiner and hate being in the center of any group.

that being said (1, Funny)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455756)

I'm going to mentally meta-moderate your mental moderation of my post as flamebait as "unfair". At worst, it was redundant, because I noticed after posting it that several other people also pointed out the very valid, relevant, non-flamebait point that cellphones can be listened in on even when not making a call.

Re:Turn off the phone? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455484)

No, if you turn it off, it's off.

At least on every phone I've owned.
Maybe you should watch this news clip [youtube.com]

Re:Turn off the phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455674)

No, if you turn it off, it's off.

At least on every phone I've owned.
Some verizon phones still use a small amount of battery power and even transmit signals while off. However, taking the battery out completely surely solves this issue.

Re:Turn off the phone? (1)

ohtani (154270) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455408)

Well if you're THAT worried then take out the battery? I don't think any company has a way of tracking a signal from a device that doesn't even have power.

Re:Turn off the phone? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455460)

If you are convinced that turning off a phone won't help, the odds are that taking out the battery isn't going to calm you down either. Just leave the phone at home. Or better yet, get another phone as a decoy. Of course, that isn't going to help with all those implants that the government has putting in us.

Or, you could always take your cell phone and put it in a nice metal screen bag.

Re:Turn off the phone? (0, Redundant)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455568)

How the heck would getting another phone as a decoy not do exactly what they want the system to do?

Re:Turn off the phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455654)

Well if you're THAT worried then take out the battery?
I use an iPhone you insensitive clod!

Re:Turn off the phone? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455828)

I have personally seen a technology demonstration where I took the battery out of my Nokia 6288, walked into the next room, and whispered a word into the phone. I dragged my finger across the mic-hole and blew into it. When I came back, guess what I heard played back to me?

I was told that it's good for 50 meters.

Re:Turn off the phone? (2, Interesting)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455724)

How long before there is some sort of "Drop Your Cell Phones Off Here" at the entrance to major stores and malls... kinda like how there used to be (and in some places still is) ones for weapons.

Although, obviously the stores themselves wouldnt do this, but once this gets more publicity, or more adoption from other stores, there might be some sort of Anti-Tracking organization that will do it...

"This Store Doesn't Track You"

I don't own a cell phone, and probably never will (by choice), but as anti-tracking as I am, this is the least of my worries, infact if it was "open" it could really be benificial in some cases...

"Excuse me, I left something somewhere in this mall, my Cell Phone ID# is 8675309, could you give me a map of where I was today?"


"I can't find my kid, but she has a cell phone, its ID# is 1337K1D, where are they?"

But, alas, the drawbacks far outweigh the benifits as far as im concerned.

Re:Turn off the phone? (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455940)

Hmm...sounds like the market is ripe for someone to come up with a convenient enclosure, which will shield the phone signals from escaping when you don't want to be tracked. Some kind of faraday pouch or something that would mask the phone, even if left on?

It Does Run Linux! (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455326)

Seriously, The Path Intelligence guys use, or at least got started using, the GNU Radio platform(which, incidentally, is really really cool and you ought to check out). http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/06/70933?currentPage=2 [wired.com] http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6124/1637/1600/path_intelligence.jpg [blogger.com] http://handcircus.blogspot.com/2006/06/my-brother-in-wired.html [blogspot.com]

Re:It Does Run Linux! (1)

arodland (127775) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455344)

In fact I think it was first mentioned on slashdot as an example of how cool GNURadio was. :)

Re:It Does Run Linux! (2, Insightful)

QX-Mat (460729) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455522)

first thing I thought... back then I thought WOW innovation, the hardware DMCA does suck.

and I still do! it's a great piece of tech.

If you don't want to be tracked in public, stop emitting a signal.


Hello John Anderton (3, Interesting)

nacturation (646836) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455328)

Now all we need is retinal/facial recognition and we'll have the perfectly offensive onslaught of advertisements available to us.

How did you like the last ad greeting you by name, John Anderton?

Re:Hello John Anderton (1)

antirelic (1030688) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455424)

As much as I hate to say this, I'd rather see 10 unwanted adds about things I am interested in than the 1000's I see every day that I just dont give a shit about. In fact, I find myself missing more and more new product information because I just could care less to sift through the useless shit thats thrown in my face.

Hence people love devices such as IPODS not just because they can pick the songs that they want to hear, but because they can actively filter out the shit they do not want to hear. If marketers can figure out how to get the right message across to the right people at the right time, its pretty much a win-win for everyone. Believe it or not, marketers are starting to figure out that they are losing a lot of money by trying to inform people about services/products that they will never buy (yes, they are learning that there are just some people you cannot sell a product to).

Re:Hello John Anderton (2, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455702)

If marketers can figure out how to get the right message across to the right people at the right time, its pretty much a win-win for everyone.

I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

As a marketer of profoundly useless products, that generally barely work, and are universally of low quality, I would like to know which people are the biggest suckers and what time they are most vulnerable to making a purchase of one of my many products.

I make items such as tiger wards, rocks with googly eyes, q-ray bracelets, nordic-trac exercise equipment, gold-making guides for mmorpgs that I copied from web posts and the manual, sea monkeys, evidence eliminator software for your PC, and many other fine products I'm sure you've seen in countless ads. Frankly I'm amazed I sell any at all. But thanks to the miracles of marketing, I am able to connect with people who need these products. People looking to trade their hard earned cash...aw hell, some of them even put it on already racked up credit cards and go into debt for this stuff, that's how badly they need it!!

I couldn't agree more that further imroving the my sales is win-win for everyone.

Re:Hello John Anderton (2, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455504)

Just consider that this is a possible privacy violation.

What can be worse is if the cash register matches your phone with your purchase and re-uses that next time you approaches the shop which can make them to play an ad on a screen "Special Offer to Mr. Jones; 10-pack of Strawberry taste condoms" when you approach that store with a wife/girlfriend allergic to latex.

Walk randomly. (1)

Fumus (1258966) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455334)

No problem. I'll just walk in random directions all the time, thus screwing with their data.

On the other hand, since they have all those security cameras already installed, wouldn't it be easier to just come up with some people-tracking software that scans the video output?

Re:Walk randomly. (5, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455354)

Instead of walking, we could get a bunch of Roombas and glue cell phones to them.

That should take care of their system. And their floors.

Alternatively... (2, Funny)

monktus (742861) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455784)

1) Buy monkeys and tiny backpacks
2) ???
3) Profit!

Actually, number 2 should perhaps be "Invest in iRobot Corporation." After all, monkeys don't clean up after themselves.

Re:Walk randomly. (1)

the brown guy (1235418) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455376)

with people tracking software it will not be 100% accurate in the near future, because to get accurate numbers you need to be able to differentiate between people. I think that this is a great idea for the people who want this data, bad idea for paranoid people who want their privacy. Your tin foil hats won't save you now....but a cell phone signal jammer [dealextreme.com] will.

Re:Walk randomly. (5, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455420)

There's no need to use a signal jammer. It's your very own phone. Maybe you've never heard of that concept, but mobile phones tend to have an option which has about the same effect on your own phone phone as a jammer, but without disturbing other people's phones: Just switch your phone off! As an added bonus, you'll also increase the battery life of your phone.

Re:Walk randomly. (2, Informative)

Sentry21 (8183) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455658)

You can also enable 'airplane mode' on most phones, which turns off the radio but leaves the phone otherwise functional. Some phones behave oddly when you do this though; my RIZR's clock tends to skew by a few hours a day when I leave it on airplane mode (while I was in the hospital). Screwed with my sense of time for a while until I figured it out.

Re:Walk randomly. (3, Interesting)

Ice Wewe (936718) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455886)

Even easier than airplane mode, now with less fuss and bother, we bring you the cell phone jamming pouch! It's so simple, I believe even a blindfolded lab rat could figure out how to use it.

Step 1: Buy pouch (http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.1305 [dealextreme.com] $2.85 at the time of writing w/free shipping!)

Step 2: Put phone in pouch before entering mall

Step 3: Take phone out of pouch periodically to check text messages/make calls.

Step 4: Confuse system by having phone randomly appear for short intervals around the mall.

Step 5: ???

Step 6: Profit!

Re:Walk randomly. (1)

Yocto Yotta (840665) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455652)

It uniquely IDs you by the handsets ESN/IMEI (the serial number), at least, that's what it said when I read the article.

Re:Walk randomly. (2, Funny)

nfk (570056) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455830)

I think that will screw with your shopping more than it will screw with their data.

Unauthorized signal reception (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455342)

Aren't there laws on the books with serious penalties for unauthorized reception of private radio signals? Why shouldn't the mall owners be busted for this snooping just like they would if they were hacking DirecTV signals?

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (1)

spazdor (902907) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455358)

There might be a legal distinction between decoding enough data to snoop on a call, and simply decoding enough data to distinguish one unique signal source from another.

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455360)

Cell phone signals are not private, and you should never have that expectation. The coppas do not need a warrant to tap in to cell phone signals because of how public they are (at least that's how it was in the late 90s). I don't know if there are laws against non-authorities tapping into signals, but really, you shouldn't expect it to be private... unless in the past few years they have become encrypted and thus more private.

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (2, Interesting)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455416)

It's been illegal to snoop on cell phone calls since 1986, and law enforcement does require permission from a judge to tap your cell phone.

And to my knowledge, digital cell phone calls are encrypted. Since there is very little of the analog network remaining, that means that essentially all of them are encrypted. It may not be the best, but it is encrypted.

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455500)

You can probably discern enough though to distinguish an individual signal. Triangulation and a bit of smarts will get you the rest.

Not that it's useful - so you know there's someone with an N95 who'se on Vodafone coming in your direction - what do you do? (unless it's an apple store and you want to upsell an iphone).

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (2, Informative)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455554)

Simple example: If you monitor the ways where people go, you'll know the places where most people pass, and will put those things you want them to buy on those places.

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455588)

They already do that with cameras and also observers (basically shoppers whose job is to watch the flow of people around certain areas). There's no need to use mobile technology for it.

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455934)

In England, the analogue cell phone network was switched off about 10 years ago.

yes there are (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455410)

Under Section 5(1)(b) of the WT Act 1949 it is an offence if a person "otherwise than under the authority of a designated person, either:(i) uses any wireless telegraphy apparatus with intent to obtain information as to the contents, sender or addressee of any message whether sent by means of wireless telegraphy or not, of which neither the person using the apparatus nor a person on whose behalf he is acting is an intended recipient;

This means that it is illegal to listen to anything other than general reception transmissions unless you are either a licensed user of the frequencies in question or have been specifically authorized to do so by a designated person. A designated person means:

                        the Secretary of State;

                        the Commissioners of Customs and Excise; or

                        any other person designated for the purpose by regulations made by the Secretary of State.


(ii) except in the course of legal proceedings or for the purpose of any report thereof, discloses any information as to the contents, sender or addressee of any such message, being information which would not have come to his knowledge but for the use of wireless telegraphy apparatus by him or by another person."

  This means that it is also illegal to tell a third party what you have heard.

With certain exceptions, it is an offence under Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 for a person - "intentionally and without lawful authority to intercept, at any place in the United Kingdom, any communication in the course of its transmission by means of:

                        a public postal service; or
                        a public telecommunication system."

It is similarly an offence to intercept any communication in the course of its transmission by means of a private telecommunication system.

According to Ofcom, scanners and monitoring radios can be legally sold, bought and used in the United Kingdom, without the need to obtain a license, provided they only receive radio services meant for general reception by the public. In the UK such services include Citizens' Band, Amateur, licensed broadcast radio, weather and navigation broadcasts.

It is only illegal to use scanners to listen to licensed private services such as the police and taxi radio transmissions and other prohibited or private broadcasts not intended for the public. Listening in on such broadcasts is an offence under Section 5(1) (b) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949.

In order to help the public understand what it can and cannot listen to, Ofcom publishes a Radio Authority information sheet titled RA-169.

Anyone who intends to listen to radio transmissions should be aware of the following, it warns: A license is not required for a radio receiver as long as it is not capable of transmission according to The Wireless Telegraphy Apparatus (Receivers) (Exemption) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989 No 123). An exception to this is that it is an offense to listen to unlicensed broadcasters (pirate broadcasts) without a license and licenses are not issued for that purpose.

Although it is not illegal to sell, buy or own a scanning or other receiver in the UK, it must only be used to listen to transmissions meant for general reception - Amateur and Citizens' Band transmissions, licensed broadcast radio and weather and navigation broadcasts. It is an offence to use your scanner to listen to any other radio services unless you are authorized by a designated person to do so.

So possession of the equipment is allowed so long as it is not used to listen to prohibited communications in the UK.

http://www.monitoringtimes.com/html/mtlaws_may04.html [monitoringtimes.com]

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (5, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455706)

They intercept the IMEI number of the cell phone; the serial number of the hardware, not your personal telephone number. You could change the telephone number simply by unlocking the phone and inserting a new SIM card. But the IMEI never changes unless you got a new phone.

Like cable broadband networks, the actual data transferred for calls is encrypted, but the IMEI is not.

Re:Unauthorized signal reception (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455924)

No. I believe they only cover unauthorised transmission of radio signals, and unauthorised phone tapping, which this doesn't do.

warning sigs at doors (4, Interesting)

brenddie (897982) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455352)

If the mall is going to use my equipment for their benefit, I should be warned before entering the premises. I see no mention on TFA about the mall warning its customers about the tracking system , besides looking for the antennas on the walls but those can easily be concealed. Maybe someone can come up with a device that changes IMEIs on the fly creating one man stampedes/mobs

Re:warning sigs at doors (4, Interesting)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455442)

They aren't using your hardware, they are observing the public signal that your hardware is sending to the towers outside the mall.

Re:warning sigs at doors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455864)

But the signal isn't public. The frequency is privately owned by the cell companies.

Re:warning sigs at doors (2, Informative)

Yocto Yotta (840665) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455696)

IMEIs are serial numbers that the networks use to make sure your calls go to your phone . . . unless you want to carry around a useless radio emitting brick for absolutely no reason BUT to fuck with the company, changing IMEIs would be a bad idea. There's a lot of work that's gone into preventing that from happening, the fraud possibilities would be endless if the serial number of a handset could be easily changed. I'm not saying the can't be changed, there's a huge grey market around that very practice, but definitely not something trivial that can be done by consumers.

Re:warning sigs at doors (1)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455714)

Generally speaking, when you broadcast electromagnetic waves you lose any ownership or privacy interest in their existence (note that the content of the message is distinct from the existence of the message). So while the equipment might be yours, the radiation is public and you have no right whatsoever to dictate what happens to them.

You don't want to be tracked by your cell phone, turn it off.

Phew. (0)

morari (1080535) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455368)

I'm glad I don't have a mobile telephone. This is just one more reasons (in the list of many reasons) not to have one anyway.

So vague... (4, Funny)

oskard (715652) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455370)

customers in shopping centers are having their every move tracked.

Which customers? Which shopping centers? ALL OF THEM? Am I being tracked?

Put on your tin-foil hats everyone!

Re:So vague... (1)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455668)

customers in shopping centers are having their every move tracked.
Which customers? Which shopping centers? ALL OF THEM? Am I being tracked? Put on your tin-foil hats everyone!
Just wrapping your cell phone in tin-foil would be more economical. It would probably defeat the purpose of having it on though.

People WANT this stuff, they just don't know it (4, Insightful)

religious freak (1005821) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455384)

Whenever I read big-brother type stuff like this, I'm reminded of one of the best lectures I received regarding the direction of IT (and this was years ago)

In speaking about GIS he outlined some items that seemed very spooky and seemingly improbable things that would happen - then he discussed the results of those things occurring as if they were a given. I was skeptical that they'd even happen, but they are beginning to... stuff like this article mentions, how it will be very close to impossible to travel without a cell phone, and how that would essentially mark you (not in the crazy 666 sense) for all kinds of crap people want to sell to you.

At the end, his point was that these types of things will be reviled in name only, but once people receive the benefits of the technology, they'll love it. We're headed down this path whether we like it or not; privacy will become a very relative thing in the next couple decades. We will need to rely exclusively on the good faith of the companies that guard our information.

Re:People WANT this stuff, they just don't know it (2, Interesting)

dnwq (910646) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455538)

I'm inclined to agree - companies don't want to advertise to people who don't want to buy their stuff, it's a waste of effort and makes people hate them.

If data mining progresses enough, pretty soon advertisements will only appear to those people receptive to such advertisements. So people will find advertising in general a good thing... good enough to be worth trading away your privacy? Probably not for most Slashdotters, but probably so for the average mall rat.

Re:People WANT this stuff, they just don't know it (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455642)

I don't agree. A whole lot of advertising is about generating demand -- not finding it, but generating it. The goal is to convince people that they must buy stuff they've never even considered buying before. That attitude will assure that annoying advertising will always be with us.

I expect that 'targeted' advertising will become just another version of 'the suckers list' - that's the list a boiler-room (aka scam) company keeps of the suckers who fell for their last scam because chances are if you could convince (aka trick) them into wasting money once, then chances are you can trick them again.

Re:People WANT this stuff, they just don't know it (1)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455686)

I'm inclined to agree - companies don't want to advertise to people who don't want to buy their stuff, it's a waste of effort and makes people hate them.
Unless it's cheaper and easier than figuring out who doesn't want to buy their stuff. If you annoy the extra people, hey, they weren't going to buy it anyway.

Re:People WANT this stuff, they just don't know it (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455710)

great just what I want more advertising on shite I don't want or need. So what if I go to boat US and spend $200 I don't need your flyer as that $200 worth of gear covers everything i need for the next 2 years. your advertising dollar is now wasted.

Or big deal I go into payless and buy shoes. I don't need the catalog on womens shoes as I am a guy. don't send it to me, it won't help you sell more shoes as i have more than i want as it is(specialty footwear for special applications).

targeting advertising will never work and your only going to piss off the people who would buy your product but don't want to deal with your junk mail. I can't stand it when i buy one thing from a store and get advertisements on the next 6 months worth of stuff that i have no interest in. Go away, if I need something else I might be back.

The average Mall rat though tosses away the brochures even faster than I do. Advertising and meteorology. The only two things where statistics matter and yet are constantly wrong about the target.

Who are they fooling? (0, Flamebait)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455388)

From the article...

"...The device cannot access personal details about a person's identity or contacts, but privacy campaigners expressed concern about potential intrusion..."

These folks expect us to believe that they would admit that these devices can indeed access peoples personal contacts? Who are they kidding? It's like expecting Bush to admit that he was wrong to invade Iraq.

Re:Who are they fooling? (1)

genericpoweruser (1223032) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455482)

Disclaimer: I didn't RTFA.

I'd be very surprised if this thing actually decodes/decrypts any of the private parts of the cell signal. Instead what would do is use each cell as a sort of fingerprint. By knowing that a given customer is the same one as last time, they can build pretty effective databases. GIS for example can analyze how much time a customer spends looking at each section of the store and help determine where the most profitable investments can be made.

For example, if the same people visit the sporting goods section as pause at the canned goods section, it might be deemed profitable to put the two closer together, so the customers spends more time looking at items they want, rather than walking past items they're not interested in.

Re:Who are they fooling? (1)

prshaw (712950) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455506)

Actually in a mall I would expect them to move them farther apart, just so the people did walk past other stores and displays. Isn't that part of what a mall or shopping center sells to the stores, more eyes on their store fronts?

Re:Who are they fooling? (2, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455800)

With most shops, they try and arrange the floor sections so that people walk through as many areas as possible. The most popular areas will be at the most inaccessible corner - Bookstores tend to have the expensive educational titles at the very back, while they have the cheap paperbacks at the front of the store.

DIY stores (like IKEA) try and arrange all the sections so that you have to walk through every section (think Koch curve) to get from the main door to the item you want to buy to the checkout desk and the exit.

Supermarkets tend to have the flowers/fruit/newspapers/magazines seem to be next to the entrance, the bakery is way back near the opposite side/end of the store, and the liquor/beer/wine is in another corner, with the frozen food section somewhere in the middle. In that way, they get everyone to wander all through the aisles, rather than just walking in and out.

Re:Who are they fooling? (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455590)

it might be deemed profitable to put the two closer together, so the customers spends more time looking at items they want, rather than walking past items they're not interested in.

You mean, put the two departments farther apart, in order to make the store more profitable, don't you?
They don't put the 4 main sections (produce, dairy, meat,frozen) of grocery stores on opposite sides of the store by accident. It behooves them to have you go by product you're not interested in.
If you're not interested in buying it in the first place, and can avoid that section of the store altogether, you're not going to buy it. If you're not interested in buying it in the first place, and you have to walk through/near/by the section on your way to your other purchases/checkout, then you might buy it, ultimately making the store more money.

How does this work? (3, Informative)

imrtt (1287370) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455402)

This is pretty cool. The website claims accuracy of 1-2 meters. If they indeed use triangulation, their equipment has to be able to measure time down to ~1/300 millionth of a second. BTW, chances are that tracking is anonymous. I don't believe phones transmit phone numbers or other private information unencrypted.

Since this article is about cell phone tracking, I thought I would mention a free GPS tracking service that we recently launched. It's called InstaMapper. There is a DIY that explains how to track a car in real-time using a $40 prepaid cell phone:

http://www.instamapper.com/diytracking.html [instamapper.com]

Re:How does this work? (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455544)

I believe the IMSI gets transmitted in the clear, but rarely (most of the time the TMSI is sent, and that changes randomly).

It's not that anonymous if you can get an IMSI - that's unique to your account and never changes... TMSI is random enough to be pretty useless for any medium term tracking.

"this is pretty cool"? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455600)

mod the douche down, first off he thinks it's "cool" tracking everybody and their every movement, despite his "beliefs" of phones are not passing personal information. NEWSFLASH they need some kind of identifier to figure out who you are every time you go in the store dumbass

then he goes along and promotes some gay asshat product that he makes that no one will ever buy. (at least anyone with a right mind that doesn't want his company tracking their every move)

fuck you and your privacy invading bullshit service.

What about the shopping centers with a poor signal (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455458)

What about the shopping centers with a poor signal there some places where you get a weak signal some times parts of a store get no signal at all.

Re:What about the shopping centers with a poor sig (3, Informative)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455492)

They will track you the best, because when the signal quality gets worse, your phone increases its own signal strength in order to keep the connection as long as possible.

Re:What about the shopping centers with a poor sig (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455508)

Those actually make the system's life easier. In modern phones, the phone adjusts the power of its transmissions in order to conserve energy. If contact with the tower is good, it will use less energy, if conditions are bad, it will use more in an attempt to compensate.
Since this tracking system listens to your phone's transmissions, it should actually have an easier time in areas where tower transmissions are weak and phone transmissions are strong.

Re:What about the shopping centers with a poor sig (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455576)

Since this tracking system listens to your phone's transmissions, it should actually have an easier time in areas where tower transmissions are weak and phone transmissions are strong. ..which is an easy thing to simulate with a sufficient amount of radio reflective material in the walls of the store.

Re:What about the shopping centers with a poor sig (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455690)

That's an issue of getting a signal to/from a tower outside the immediate area. These devices are in the immediate area at close range with the mobile phone, hence no weak signals.

public pranks possible (5, Funny)

timothy (36799) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455472)

Lots of fun things you can imagine doing with this :)

Gather as many cellphones as possible (from cooperating friends etc). Put them all in a small basket.

Have them visit for a while in ... the dressing room at Victoria's Secret / Stall 3 in the bathroom at Baskin Robbins / the service elevator in any place you can find with a service elevator.

Or just have people do a lot of trading, so person A keeps visiting place 3, over and over and over. (Also works with grocery loyalty oath cards.)

Have a massive "appearance" / "disappearance" fest. Hey! 50 people just appeared inside Best Buy! No ... no, wait, they didn't. Errr ... 50 people just appeared spaced in a grid around the parking lot! No, they've disappeared.


Re:public pranks possible (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455624)

That kind of stuff would be easy to verify in the security cameras - plus any data gathering system will reject out of band data like that (there will always be a few people who don't act like the rest.. their data isn't meaningful in general).

Going into service elevators/hiding in dressing rooms/repeatedly visiting the same place and not buying is going to attract the attention of security too. Being caught with a bag with 50 mobile phones in it is gonna take some explaining - you may be innocent.. you may be a pickpocket. They'll assume the latter until you prove otherwise.

Towards the Transparent Society (4, Insightful)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455480)

Other things these systems could do include correlating phone IDs with missing big-ticket merchandise to identify possible shoplifters, or look for suspicious activity like repeated visits to rest rooms or other semi-private places by the same set of IDs. Combine it with video records and credit card records and you can get a fair amount of visitor identification without going to the phone company for tracing. Not enough to act, but enough to be useful to security personnel.

It's another step towards Brin's transparent society.

We're Mall Security, and we say... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455712)

> look for suspicious activity like repeated visits to rest rooms

Either you're a terrorist or you've got the runs, and we're not taking chances!

Oh yes, false positives are a huge problem. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455790)

I was talking about frequent visits by the same groups of people.

Now that's still possibly a parent and a child with the runs rather than a drug deal, but you're right, there's a huge potential for false positives from any system like this, but do you really think that will stop them?

That's kind of the point.

Tracking information (5, Insightful)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455486)

I don't have objections to it being done correctly. By correctly I would want the following issues to be addressed. 1. No attempts to find out who the cell phone belongs to. (No personally identifiable information). 2. The id number that the cell phone transmits is never stored in any way. The use of an internal identifying number would be acceptable as long as no link was made between the actual cell phone identification number and the internal id number is stored. 3. Every time you visit the mall you get a new internal id number. This would prevent getting information about repeat visits to the mall. My concerns about storing personally identifiable information stems from the government. The government would subpoena for the mall owners cell phone information and all sorts of fun would begin. Even if only a cell phone id number is stored it would be enough for the government to use as a starting point.

Re:Tracking information (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455648)

I think 1. is assumed - the cell phone companies wouldn't give that information, except to law enforcement. 2. and 3.? That's the valuable stuff - why do you thing they spend so much pushing store cards? They'll be the exact reason they're even trying this.. If they get your IMSI you're hosed unless you always use payT phones and throw them away after visting the store. Luckily IMSI is only transmitted when the phone first connects to the tower (of course a small 'no signal' area you pass through on entering the store can ensure this happens).

Re:Tracking information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455762)

Too bad all that information is important to them. Anyone with a cell phone that does not think they are being tracked at all times is a fool... Which is why i think it is important to have privacy ideas like the ones above addressed.

Who pays the watchers (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455530)

Besides the obvious question "who watches the watchers", I always ask myself on these privacy topics:

Where does the money come from to pay people to sit around the whole day and watch other people? There must be an enormous amount of data accumulating...

Christ :) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455534)

From God our heavenly Father,
A blessed angel came;
And unto certain shepherds,
Brought tidings of the same;
How that in Bethlehem was born,
The Son of God by name!

O tidings of comfort and joy!!

so, I want help... (3, Funny)

wherrera (235520) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455552)

Okay, fine, so now I want to use SMS to send my shopping list to the mall, and get in return directions to the aisle and row of the widget I want, with the price displayed on the map on my phone of the mall, with directions if I ask, so I can decide which of two competing stores to go to. Better still, I would not mind if the the higher priced store might offer me a deal when they see me entering their competitor's shop. And no colluding on price, please, I will go to another mall...

prepare for legal action? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455608)

Iam sure the cellphone companies will love to put a stop to a third party using their $billion privately licensed network infrastructure for commercial gain that they are not a part of.
Of course if ALL the cellphone companies have giving their blessings to recieve their frequencies then the legal threat is reduced, somehow from reading about their tech they dont have permssion.

i presume they have lawyers?, even a ham radio operator could tell you the laws on reception of signals, bottom line no permission, no reception or usage in any way at ALL

I do not appreciate this at all. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455632)

Unless they inform me (signs posted prominently on the doors or walls, for example), then I consider this to be gross invasion of privacy.

And of course, if they were to post such signs, then I would go to another shopping center!

Which is NOT an excuse for them to keep using it without telling people. What I am getting at is, I object to the practice and I believe most others do too.

Go ahead -- tag my trail (1)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455638)

A simple search on Google will bring any number of articles on the decline of the American mall {even though TFA discusses UK malls}. The article(s) specifically state the financially affluent are abandoning the malls. Despite what the articles may summarize, the reason I don't shop in malls is simple -- mall stores carry nothing I need. I park outside the single store I need to visit, get the items I require, and leave.

I am quite confident any tracking will show an inverse relationship between time spent in the mall and actual shopper's spending.

Nyah nyah! Who's paranoid now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455698)

Who told you that once a certain technology exists it will be (ab)used. Who predicted that our every move will be covertly tracked, down to a few metres? Who called it ridiculous and didn't believe it? The technology is there. First the shops, then the streets. It's only a technicality until the movement data gets related to your personal identity. Stand up already, and defend your privacy.

one of the stores which had already deployed the receivers did not want its name revealed for fear of alarming its customers
Well well. There may be reason for alarm? You mean, your customers should have reason to mistrust you? Sneaky bastards.

Catching unwanted customers (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455722)

I could see mall security using this.

I'm sure we've all been there before, where a store ask you to leave. I remember an incident at Radio Shack (when they still existed). I bought a Sony Discman that didn't work. Anyways I was being persistent to get something done. They called mall security and I was kicked out and told not to come back to said mall. Although I was back the next day, my secondary school was connected to said mall.

With this system, I could see them locking on to one's mobiles signal, and then placing it in a database so they would be alerted if one were to return to a mall they were not welcome to. Although if one was smart and figured out they were using mobile signal to track you then all you have to do is turn the mobile off.


bigleon (1276752) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455734)

This is ridiculous, they are using it for more advertisements to spam the shit out of us even more. "we noticed you looked at underwear for 2.3 minutes, would you be interested in one of the following X-brands."

Cell phones have been being tracked for a while (1)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455742)

Yes, your cell phone does indeed transmit an identification signal - one that can be positively identified. That's fundamental to the way cell phone networks work - and the cell phone providers can easily link the cell phone's ID to your account details. Various law enforcement agencies have been making use of this for many years already.

What's changed is that now the technology is available for corporations to access your cell phone's broadcasts and use that to determine your movements. It's pretty certain that they can read the ID from your phone - and if they're not linking it to your personal profile already it's just a matter of time until they do. When your cell phone broadcasts ID from the checkout counter as they're running your credit card - gotcha!

Would these corporate watchers reveal what they're doing? Not likely at all; they'd be much more likely to keep it a deep dark secret for as long as they can. It's the perfect pretext for gathering personal data - they've got a business relationship with you and they're just updating their internal records, you know.

The only thing about this whole mess that surprises me is how many people are concerned about how RFID may be used to track them - but they're completely overlooking that cell phone that they carry with them everywhere they go.

Tip for those who don't want to be tracked: Leave the cell phone at home.

Are the phones uniquely identified? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455806)

It wouldn't surprise me a bit if the phones, as phones (but not as people) could be tracked by the radio signals they send out constantly. It could lead to interesting movement information for the stores and the mall management.

But can the tracking infrastructure on its own (ie, without cooperation from the cell phone companies) determine who is the owner of a given phone as it moves through the mall? Its one thing to say "phone ABC123 was in the gap for 20 minutes, and then went to cinnabon", but a very different thing to say "jane doe was in the gap for 20 minutes and then went to cinnabon".

It would be useful to know just how much privacy is actually at stake, here.

Why this isn't likely to apply in the US (2, Interesting)

Peter Simpson (112887) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455814)

Article, though datelined "San Francisco", seems to refer to tracking being done in a GSM-only environment. They talk about looking at the IMEI of the handsets, which is a GSM term, and the locations mentioned seem to be in the UK.

In the US, they'd have to be decoding three to six different protocols on at least three frequency bands. Those nodes would cost a fortune. You'd have want that location information pretty badly to fund something like that. Not to mention multipath issues.

I know it would work in theory, but something tells me this company isn't tracking *all* handsets in a large mall. Of course, you'd only find that out once you pay for their reports...

Pure BS! (2, Interesting)

cuby (832037) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455822)

The type of thing they claim, not even network operators can do, and they assign all the frequencies in use, so, they know who is who. Cell phones (GSM, at least) don't broadcast unless there's something to do, like make a call, change base station, etc. How they will monitor something that is not broadcasting?

This can only be achieved using monitoring software IN the cell phone, using network monitoring (a big subject).

I don't know what they are monitoring, but for sure, it is not GSM phones.

Privacy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23455840)

Anyone who walks around with an RF transmitter in there pocket and complains about the privacy implications is an idiot.

Cell phone tracking (1)

Liz99 (1291588) | more than 5 years ago | (#23455870)

Another reason I don't have a cell phone. Don't want it, don't need it, don't miss it.
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