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Published: Thursday, 12/1/2011

Complaints halt tracking of shoppers by cell phones

BLOOMBERG NEWS

A trial of technology that uses shoppers' cell phones to track their movements through malls was halted amid a U.S. senator's concerns that the practice violated privacy.

The test, which was scheduled to run from Nov. 25 until Jan. 1, was stopped after one day, said Julia Yuryev, a spokesman at Forest City Commercial Management in Cleveland. Forest City owns the two centers where the trial occurred: Promenade Temecula in California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va.

FootPath Technology, manufactured by the U.K. company Path Intelligence Ltd., uses cell phone signals to track shoppers, who were notified by a sign near mall navigation maps. The only way people can opt out is to turn off their cell phones, Ms. Yuryev said.

"FootPath would like to address the privacy concerns before moving forward," she said. "It's unclear if they will publish the data they've already used."

Path Intelligence, based in Portsmouth, U.K., has "temporarily suspended data collection at the two malls," Chief Executive Officer Sharon Biggar said in an e-mail.

FootPath technology consists of monitoring units that recognize signals from shoppers' mobile phones.

"Our detector units do not allow us to obtain your telephone number, to listen to any of your calls, read any SMS messages read or sent by you, or to log details of any calls or SMS messages made or received by you," the company said on its Web site. "Neither does any of the information received allow us to identify you or any group of individuals."

Retailers at the Promenade Temecula, in the California city of the same name, include Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Apple Inc., Gap Inc.'s Old Navy, and Macy's Inc. The Short Pump Town Center advertises Dillard's Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc., and Limited Brands Inc.'s Victoria's Secret locations.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., New York) criticized the technology, saying the malls were compromising patrons' privacy. He planned to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

Other stores including J.C. Penney Co. and Home Depot Inc. were considering adopting the tracking system, he said.

J.C. Penney tested the technology in one store, and has no plans to implement it, Rebecca Winter, a spokesman for the chain, said.

Home Depot isn't testing or using the technology, Stephen Holmes, a company spokesman, said.



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