Malls Cancel Plans To Track Shoppers' Movements Via Cellphone

Remember how two malls annoyed more than a few people by announcing that they would be tracking shoppers’ movements via their cellphone signals? Yeah, well that’s no longer happening — at least for now.

The malls have suspended their plans after a U.S. senator raised the same privacy issues that everyone else had already mentioned.

The technology, Footpath, uses tracking devices throughout a mall to record shopper movement by triangulating the signals of their cell phones. The collected data are then run through analytics and the results given to retailers. Personal information such as cell phone numbers and the names or address of phone owners are not recorded.

Footpath was to be given a trial run in two Forest City malls, one in California, and the other in Virginia. Signs posted in each location read that the mall was conducting an “anonymous mobile phone survey,” which began on Black Friday. After Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) raised concerns over privacy issues, however, the two malls have temporarily suspended the trial run of Footpath.

At a press conference on Sunday, Schumer said the malls should have given shoppers the choice to opt-in, instead of the choice to opt-out, which they could do by turning their cell phones off. In a press release, the senator stated that “Personal cell phones are just that–personal–and should not be used as tracking devices by private companies.”

According to Chuck, JC Penny and Home Depot are also considering using the technology in their stores.

Forest City Commercial Management did not say that the plans to use Footpath were being completely scrapped, but only put on hold while the company “works with the system developer on possible enhancements, and in deference to concerns raised by Senator Schumer.”

The technology is already used in both Europe and Australia. The maker of Footpath, Path Intelligence, is based in the U.K.