I want to go back to my days of the Stress Puppy comic strip for a moment.
Raff, the central character, had one tech toy that Holly was insanely jealous of. On his Palm Pilot was an app that enabled him to track the locations of other employees inside the ITG building. If the employee had their cell phone on, the different antennas could detect it, and based on strength and how many others saw it, could triangulate almost exactly where whoever it was was in the building.
It was a plot device that I needed to advance the story. I had just started learning about wifi networks at the time, and the thought about triangulation hit me. Naturally, this also increased my own paranoia about technology, prompting me to keep my wifi antenna on things like my tablets and such off until I wanted to use them. After all, this meant that I could be used as research data.
Fan mail was split on the issue. Some people, who clearly weren't tech savvy, said Raff's Marauder's Map was bullshit and I was cheating with the story. Others said, yeah, it was possible, but you aren't transmitting identifying information, so don't be so paranoid.
FUCK YOU ALL. NORDSTROM HAS JUST ADMITTED THEY DO IT.
Stores are already implanting cameras in the mannequins to track customers around the store. Now, they don't even need that. The New York Times has revealed a company is called Euclid, and they make technology that tracks customers based on their cell phone, tablet, or netbook signals, sort of like IRL Google Analytics. They have 100 stores using their service, and they brag that they have tracked 50 million devices in 4,000 locations around the US.
Now, they, both Euclid and the stores, claim that the tracking is anonymous, so don't worry. Although Nordstrom realizes that people are skittish about this -- they've dropped Euclid since May 8. Or so they say. And let's face it, they can always hire another company, you know Euclid isn't the only one out there.
So, let's hear from the enemy. This is Tara Darrow, a Nordstrom spokesperson. "Sensors within the store collect information from customer smartphones as they attempt to connect to wifi service. The sensors can monitor the departments you visit and how much time you spend there (I told you so -- G). However, the sensors do not follow your phone from department to department (no, but you can build that data from simple analysis -- G), nor can they identify any personal information tied to the phone's owner." Euclid says they can track three data points -- the number of people who walk into the store, the percentage of people who buy (the "conversion rate"), and the average size of the purchases made by the tracked (the "basket size"). Does that sound very anonymous to you?
Oh, here's another piece of data for you -- hedge fund investors have been on Euclid to tell them who uses the technology so they can buy stock in those companies. Euclid kept their mouth shut. Nordstrom didn't.
Nordstrom had a sign at the entrances of the store saying they were doing this and if you wanted to opt out of the "market research," you had to turn off your phone or disable wifi. They started doing it in October 2012. Home Depot experimented with it, but didn't get much in the way of results and dumped the program. Euclid charges $200 per month for each sensor, not counting the cloud technology that analyzes the data and spits out the results. Usage has jumped over 11,000%. That's an eleven with three zeroes at the end.
"Everybody here's a number, not a name." And a wallet, too. And that's all anyone cares about.