The government, stores… Who isn’t tracking you?

Like dozens of other brick-and-mortar retailers, Nordstrom wanted to learn more about its customers — how many came through the doors, how many were repeat visitors — the kind of information that e-commerce sites like Amazon have in spades. So last fall the company started testing new technology that allowed it to track customers’ movements by following the Wi-Fi signals from their smartphones.
Nordstrom’s experiment is part of a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it.
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.

  1. Cap'n Kangaroo says:

    As a general rule I turn off WiFi anywhere I am away from the house. Save some battery juice.

    • Anony Mouse says:

      You’re not very smart if you think that turning off WiFi (802.11 signal) is somehow concealing your identity. However, that’s smarter than a lot of other people – er, sheep.

      You’re only making it a little harder to track when you just turn off your phone’s WiFi signal since you forget about other technologies like RFID (not only embedded credit cards but also in many drivers licenses), cell phone signals themselves (not to be confused for WiFi), and even face recognition!

      The only way to truly remain anonymous is to always wear a full body berka (sp?) complete with veils and scarves, not carry any ID (including credit cards and the like) and to always pay in cash! Although I hear even cash is expected to have RFID embedded in it some day.

      Point is, if “they” (whoever they are) want to watch you, they’re going to watch. Therefore, I say give them a show or at least LIE YOUR ASS OFF!

      If they want to collect data on you then you may want to consider giving some pre-selected data. Just for starts, try changing your phone’s SSID so that anyone monitoring it see’s it as Barack Obama’s!

      • Cap'n Kangaroo says:

        For my work. I drive a truck that is constantly reporting my GPS position, road speed, engine speed, and will even instantly report a hard braking event to the company. That is just part of the give and take of the job. In order for the company (and thus me) to get the high value loads that command higher compensation, we give up the anonymity of the truck. Anyone in dispatch can instantly see where my truck is and where its been. The shipper can (and has) track my specific load to see if I am on schedule and what my ETA is.

        My truck is also equipped with a transponder that identifies me to every state weigh station equipped with a reader. On top of that, my truck has a Qualcom automatic electronic log book solution. Any state, county,or city motor vehicle enforcement officer can stop me and look at exactly where my truck has been,when it moved, etc for the last 8 days.

        So you see I am well aware of being constantly tracked and have no recourse about trying to spoof the tracking. But I have been trucking long enough to remember what it was like before all this technology took over. When I first started driving, I would be required to call in every morning with where I was and the log hours from the previous day. One to two hours every morning wasted trying to get thru to my dispatcher. And once empty, driving 20-30 minutes to find a phone to tell me company I was empty and needed another load. If one was not ready, then an entire day of “call back in an hour.”

        Now, I can instantly update my dispatcher with my empty call and he can send me all the relevant info on my next load straight to the truck. The guesswork is almost totally eliminated from the load planning, meaning I get more miles (I’m paid on a per mile basis) with much less hassle and aggravation.

        So I don’t mind the constant tracking in my job. I understand why Pratt & Whitney wants to always know where their $1,000,000 engine is, or John Deere where their $400,000 combine, or the US Navy wants to know where their $5,000,000 robotic sub is.

        • Tim says:

          Hmm. Reminds me of something.

          …Monk wonders why he is taking such an unusual route like he’s going back and forth when he could be going straight to his destinations but his father’s boss insists that he follow his route.

      • Cap'n Kangaroo says:

        And I never said anywhere in my first post that I was trying to be anonymous. Just that I rarely, if ever, leave my WiFi on outside of my home.

        But even if you never carry any type of radio transceiver, and only pay with cash, the supermarket can still track you if you use any type of store-provided cart or basket. The chip in the cart can provide all the tracking info that the WiFi signal does.

        • bobbo, we think with words, but only remember images says:

          Hey Cap’n==you said you turn off wifi in order to save juice. That makes good sense.

          You say that being tracked/connected re driving the truck makes your job easier and makes sense for the expensive cargo you carry. That makes good sense.

          So…you seem like an excellent person to comment on the point of this thread: entities having no relationship to you other than your patronage using covert means of monitoring to track your position in their store. Do you feel or think anything about THAT?

          For myself: I don’t care. But that is just me.

          Close but different: our gubment doing the exact same thing for no reason at all except that they can. Then they stockpile that info and if they can create and connect dots years later…. then they will do so. I actually have no problem with that either other than the cost efficiency of it and of course its possible misuse that I consider a tangential issue.


          I’m “almost” changing my mind. Perhaps the role of gubment really should be limited and constrained? Not just out doing what it wants to because it can? I have posted repeatedly I am for transparency AND a less effective use of power in favor of control by the people. So many pro’s and con’s….. but I think I’m returning to more conservative impulses. Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean the gubment should do it?==and not doing it should save time, money, and energy better spent elsewhere.

          Yes, I think so.

      • dave m brewer says:

        You forgot to mention that you need to remove that anal probe from you butt.

  2. MikeN says:

    Did you see the detail that the government has repealed the ban on government propaganda to Americans.

  3. scandihoovian says:

    I wonder what grocery store gave them that idea.

  4. Dallas says:

    I have no problem with companies offering me free wifi in return for them knowing I’ve been there before and I take my time shopping for specialty relishes.

    • Anony Mouse says:

      Spoken like a true MORON!

    • Tim says:

      No. No. you’re tracked foot x foot throughout the store with data logged of how much time you spent motionless looking at a certain product and what not and whether you bought it or not. This is then correlated with the high definition cameras and facial recognition algorithms to predict how you might act or purchase in the future. It can sometimes even follows you out the store with the road-side rfid readers hitting the tags on the plastic shit you just bought.

      The first implementation of such broad-spectrum surveillance was with Gillette Mach III razors and it was, you guessed it, WalMart. When a hand reached in to pick up a pack, a secret camera photographed you and then the in-house rfid readers tracked you throughout the store and even down the road a little.

      The tagging these days is a tiny dot embedded within the layers of impossible to open packaging and the antenna part is of an invisible but conductive ink — stick one in the microwave to learn where this chip is.

      This is my ‘go to’ authoritative repository for this kind of information:

      don’t bother checking ‘snopes’; Even your handlers won’t let you write off pinging those shills anymore.

      • Tim says:

        p.s. If one spends too much time reading the ingredients on a can of brake fluid after first looking irritated at the sold out coleman fuel then expect to be apprehended in the parking lot as a potential meth cook. That kind of thing. Buying lye and batteries? Some people like to make soap when the power is out; But, better to charge with crimes than to allow anybody to backslide into constitutional thinking what with the outdated ‘rights’ and all.

      • Tim says:

        Oops, link looks broken. I’ll bet it was something nice, though.

      • Dallas says:

        Computer notices that I prefer sweet, hot relish but they are out of it. It sends me an email that it will be restocked and gives me a 30% off coupon for my loyalty . Bamm! I win big time.

        Then, I get sent to the fast check out lane for being a good customer. You lose because you wrapped your second hand blackberry with aluminum foil fearing the NSA would see the child porn on your phone. No speed checkout for you!

        • Tim says:

          That works and all except for the more personal ‘profiling’. I have not carried one of those phones since 2003 when I tried to replace one out of frustration that I had slammed down and broke whilst trying to contact a doctor for immediate anti-biotics.

          Even though I told the lady, “here is the info on the phone” {motorola bible} she said I could not replace it without the new gsm — Even though, I could still listen to all the calls for ‘is henry there?’ with the old big-ass bag phone on 900 mHz.

          I told her, “I don’t think I want to pay that much for some dude to dress up in a suit and listen to me talk on the phone.” Right then, a guy rushed out the back office in a suit and had me escorted out of the building. I never looked back.

          • Tim says:

            Oh yea, I had walked into the store with a working, non-smashed, identical model that just needed that special number to authorize it.

  5. McCullough says:

    Damn, do I need to go back to using a Tracfone?

    • Tim says:

      Well, it is big. And it vibrates. And it is relatively resistant to moisture. But, so does a Flurbie.

  6. Hmeyers says:

    Don’t they have a decent picture of where you’ve walked in the store by the crap on your receipt?

    I mean, if you have milk and hotdog buns you probably walked past the cheeses and the corn/lettuce/strawberries section.

    Whatever privacy is being violated here seems weak.

    And let’s say it isn’t … soon they’ll be cameras everywhere and they’ll track you via face recognition or the clothes coloring.

    I’d file this one in “So what?” folder personally.

    Sure the tinfoil hat crowd cares, but Google — your ISP — the NSA — Facebook — mobile phone provider — pretty much know all the generic details.

    Fortunately, they mostly only want it to sell you other crap.

    Darth Vader is not impressed.

    • McCullough says:

      There has to be a line somewhere. This isn’t it of course, but to turn this thing around, it will take an massive awakening.

      So basically….we’re fucked.

  7. Glenn E. says:

    ‘ Why should physical stores not “be able to tell if someone who didn’t buy was put off by prices, or was just coming in from the cold?” ‘

    That’s their excuse for tracking you? Like they can’t just see that some items aren’t moving, so lower the damn price, once in a while? That’s what they’ve been doing for decades. But now they supposedly need to know how each individual responds to a hiked up price tag. Why? To gauge their gullibility, perhaps? Or how loose they are with their money? It’s doesn’t sound like they’re thinking of using this technology to the customers’ benefit. But rather a means of exploiting them. Treating them like lab rats, in a merchandise lined maze. REALLY. Think about it.

    • Tim says:

      Ya think?

    • Cap'n Kangaroo says:

      The science of supermarket placement, location, and product packaging is exactly that. A SCIENCE. Just ask a supermarket store manager what goes into the decision of what is displayed in the endcaps (that shelving at the end of aisles). It is so involved that the store may charge the manufacturer extra for such prime placement. Ever notice that the major brands are always at eye-level on the shelves. It is no accident. Pay for placement.

      Or ask an entrepreneur what hoops they have to go thru to get their barbecue sauce or baked beans onto a supermarket’s shelve. It is not easy and might be near impossible with the major retailers. (Except maybe Wal Mart. Individual store managers at Wal Mart do have a little flexibility)

    • Tim says:

      “Treating them like lab rats, in a merchandise lined maze.”

      Hmm, should I buy the bran muffins in the bright blue box with a picture of a muffin on the side or go with the generic in the brown paper bag with the stain which indicates freshness??

      Damn, now I’ve stood here too long and they will be outside waiting for me because, naturally, people make meth out of muffins.

  8. MikeN says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just one of the 100 cameras they have to track people in the store? Casinos do it all the time, including evaluating peoples’ card counting skills.

    • Cap'n Kangaroo says:

      I believe what they do is use them together. Did you spend 5 minutes deciding what brand of cheese to buy or were you talking to a friend you ran into in front of the cheese section?

      • Tim says:

        No. I was checking to see if the propellant was nitrous oxide because it be gettin’ harder and harder to find hippy-crack these days.

  9. Glenn E. says:

    We only heard about this because Nordstrom put up a sign, admitting to doing it. They didn’t say they would stop doing it. Or that they wouldn’t do it again, without telling the customers. And I’ll tell you something else. Car keys can be used to track you too. But don’t believe me. Wait until another Edward Snowden comes along, and warns you about. Then, I guess you’ll start taking it seriously, eh?

    They may not be tracking us with our car keys, right now. But they could, anytime they choose to. I discovered this entering a big box retail store (that shall remain nameless. but the word “best” is part of it). I set off their door alarm, entering, not leaving. And my car key was the only thing electronic on me, that emits a signal. No chipped credit cards or prosthetic limbs. After about the third visit, I realized their system was detecting my car key, as I walked in. Probably not checking its ID # against an owners’ database. Yet. But that can happen soon. It may even be part of the government bailout of the major US automakers. If they hadn’t caved in, and supplied that database long ago. And your auto dealer never stated the company would never share it’s “key code to owner” database, with any other business partners. Did they? So smart phone or not. Switched on, or not. They’ll start tracking you with the key chips. Which can’t be switched off. But you can make or buy a shielded case, for car keys. And once that idea gets popular. Watch the negative press take off, denouncing it. Because they don’t want you to walk around with shielded car keys. They’re depending on them to become ubiquitous enough to be trusted without suspicious. For all you know, they could be chipping your shoes, and watches. If they’re pricey enough.

  10. Judge Hooker says:

    Ahhh, this is much ado about nothing. The stores don’t know what to do with this data. I’ve been standing in the bodywash sections of stores for YEARS now, lecturing the ceiling camera about why this stuff would sell better if the bottles were ROUND and not square or oval (read: too skinny to set safely on the washcloth bar in the back of the shower). I don’t think bringing my smartphone in with me is going to help my case.

    • Tim says:

      I’m not so convinced about all that. I had noticed that right after 9/11 that one would spend the same {immediately obnoxiously redicoulous} amount of time in a line to check out no matter if it was only you in the store, or what– I said twelve years ago that it was the face recognition software that was slow and not the 80-year-olds never on the registar anyways making me stand there for a stick of beef-jerky and copenhagen.

  11. orchidcup says:

    Don’t buy a smartphone. You really don’t need one.

    You can live happily ever after with no smartphone.

    I don’t own a smartphone, and I don’t miss it.

    I don’t even carry a cellphone unless I am on a road trip.

    My life is uninterrupted.

  12. dave m brewer says:

    To make it easier, I would be happy to sign a guess book each and every time I enter a store. By the time the world turns into 1984 I’ll be died and gone.

    • Tim says:

      Fuck’n’ funny that you are still here right in the middle of it; Don’t ya wish you never had a thought?

  13. Uncle Patso says:

    How is this any different from having store clerks notice where people spend time in the stores? Or even having staff specifically for this purpose? And if there are people who are there just to watch shoppers, how is it any different if they’re in a room watching through the security cameras?

    As for following wi-fi signals, my response is the same as when they started making it illegal to receive unencrypted satellite video — if you don’t want me receiving your signals you can keep your damn photons out of my back yard.

    Tangent: nothing wrong with Tracfone — allows me to have a cell phone for less than $7 per month.

    Tangent 2: what the hell is a Flurbie?

    • Tim says:

      “…if you don’t want me receiving your signals you can keep your damn photons out of my back yard…”

      Ding, Ding, Ding! You just won the cupie doll.

      Another example would be the silly sync-pulse attenuation that the ‘scrambled’ premiums employed.

      I was not ever stealing anything to render what was already on my line viewable; I was adding my own sync-pulse to it.

      But don’t tell that to a judge. It matters not. This nation is enlisted by the corporations and they interpret the rules.

  14. deowll says:

    Can you be tracked if you phone is on? Absolutely. Of course businesses also have cameras inside and out. They have discount cards and they can track you by your debit and credit cards.

    One parent got made at a store because it was sending his daughter adds for baby cloths. The company apologized but later dad confessed that he had later learned that his daughter was indeed with child. We are way past 1984.

  15. Captain Obvious says:

    Well duh? You’re using somebody’s free wifi.

    Cap’n Kangaroo nailed this in the first comment.

  16. RetailNext, based in San Jose, California, 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.


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