New Site Lets Consumers Opt Out of In-Store Mobile Tracking

11 analytics firms agree to honor end users' wishes

Ahead of a Federal Trade Commission conference Wednesday on the privacy implications of mobile device tracking in stores, airports, hotels and other public places, a new website is launching where consumers can opt out of having their location information collected.

Going live Tuesday, the opt-out platform was built by The Wireless Registry for the Future of Privacy Forum, which worked with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to develop a code of conduct adopted by 11 mobile location analytics firms such as Aislelabs, Euclid and Path Intelligence. FFP, which started with seven participants last year, is hoping to sign-on all 14 firms that provide mobile location analytics. 

Once a consumer opts out, the participating companies will no longer associate information about the consumer's location with the corresponding unique media access control (MAC) address.

Retailers and others have used cameras and other less high-tech means to study foot traffic, improve check-out lines or figure out how to stock shelves and position end-aisle promotions. But while consumers may be aware and comfortable with those ubiquitous techniques, the newer mobile tracking being adopted by retailers is often invisible to consumers.

Euclid, for example, drew fire from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) when he discovered that the firm (which is participating in the opt-out website) failed to obtain permission from consumers before tracking them in stores. Franken favors an opt-in approach, but the code, adopted by Euclid and the other 10 firms, is opt out.

The emerging practice is also drawing increased scrutiny from the FTC, the de facto federal privacy agency. It is holding a panel with representatives from the National Retail Federation, indoor analytics firms iInside and Mexia Interactive, as well as privacy advocates to examine what type of data is being collected, whether it is anonymous, how it is used and how companies can implement "the principles of privacy by design, simplified consumer choice, and increased transparency."