There Is a Good Chance You Are Being Tracked While You Shop

Sen. Franken finds it troubling

Euclid, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up that tracks consumer shopping habits in stores via their WiFi enabled smart phones has run smack dab into the ongoing privacy debate in Washington about whether consumers should have to opt-out of being tracked or whether companies should ask permission first.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), one of the leading privacy hawks in Congress, is a big proponent of the philosophy that consumers should be asked if they want to be tracked before companies track them without their knowledge.

In a letter to Euclid CEO Will Smith, Franken pressed the company to obtain permission from consumers before tracking them in stores, "especially in the offline world where they are less likely to expect it," Franken wrote Wednesday. "Recent news reports suggest that Euclid's technology has tracked 50 million unique smart phones or other WiFi enabled devices…. I find this troubling."

Euclid, a new startup company that calls itself the "Google Analytics for the physical world," tracks the number of consumers that walk past a store, enter a store, or move between floors. The company takes great pains on its website to explain that it only collects device information and that all the data it collects is aggregated and anonymous. But unless a consumer knows to go to the company's site, they wouldn't know there is an easy opt-out in the site' privacy section, where consumers can enter in the WiFi address of their devices.

But that's not enough for Franken, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law. Franken has already made headway in the Judiciary committee with a location privacy bill requiring companies to get permission from users before collecting their location information.

"It's one thing to track someone's shopping habits through a loyalty card or credit card purchase; folks understand that their information may be collected…. People have a fundamental right to privacy, and I think neglecting to ask consumers for their permission to track them violates that right," Franken said in a statement.

Euclid said in a statement it has "been engaged in a fruitful discussion" and is preparing a response that it will post on its web site. "Our service is built on privacy by design principles and our privacy practices have been reviewed by leading experts in consumer privacy," the company said. 

Euclid has until April 1 to respond to 16 questions from Franken.