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Two Malls to Track Customer Movement with Cell Phones Starting Black Friday

Black Friday. You’ve heard about the crazy mobs, the tramplings, the stampedes. With the number of people running around on Black Friday, if you watched them hard enough, you might even be able to learn something about swarm intelligence. And where people shop. It’s probably that second one that prompted the Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Virginia to track their customers’ movements via cell signals.

Now before you get too upset: All the data is anonymous. They aren’t tracking any personal information. Nope. Of course not. Ok, so they’re probably telling the truth but they’re still getting into some touchy territory here. The goal is ostensibly to collect information about specific shoppers, such as what shoppers have what stores in common, how long they stay where, and where they don’t go. And while this can still be technically anonymous if they don’t know who you are, it’s still a little creepy.

Which is presumably why management says that this isn’t what they’re doing. “We won’t be looking at singular shoppers,” said Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, the VP of digital strategy for Forest City, the management company that runs both malls. “The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to.” The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Of course, I guess it isn’t that malicious. The management is notifying shoppers with handy little sign posted on the mall directory signs. Aside from that, malls have always been watching you in less technologically complex ways. This is just the first time they’re using cell phones. Fortunately, if you’re really opposed, you can opt out….by going somewhere else or turning off your cell phone. Not exactly convenient alternatives. Still, I would love to see the heat map they can generate with that data. I guess I’d be OK with the powers-that-be knowing how much time I spend in Victoria’s Secret, I guess.

(via CNN Money)

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