The holidays have been spoiled for two malls that planned to electronically track customers. The Promenade Temecula in California and Short Pump Town Center in Virginia announced plans last week to implement "FootPath" technology, which uses shoppers' cell phone signals to map their traffic throughout the shopping centers. Privacy advocates immediately cried foul and US Senator Charles Schumer questioned the rollout during a press conference this Sunday.
"A shopper's personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers who are seeking to determine holiday shopping patterns," Schumer said. "Personal cell phones are just that -- personal. If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so," he continued, implying that the tracking experiment should only be permissible if customers were given the chance to opt-in.
The malls originally wanted to introduce the tracking system under an opt-out only policy that would have required customers to disable their handsets if they didn't want to be tracked. Schumer sent letters to the FTC and the CEO of Path Intelligence (the firm behind FootPath), calling the tracking initiative "simply unreasonable." He noted further that shoppers shouldn't be forced to choose between having contact with their loved ones and safeguarding their privacy.
In light of that resistance, Forest City Commercial Management (which operates both malls) has temporarily suspended trials of the technology until it can address Senator Schumer's concerns. FootPath is already present in several establishments across Europe and Australia and Forest City's malls are essentially serving as a test platform for a US rollout. Other stores including J.C. Penny and Home Depot are reportedly considering implementing the technology.