Upstart Business Journal
by Teresa Novellino
The UpTake: If there’s a privacy revolution in the offing, count Apple in. Beginning this fall, iPhone-carrying consumers will be able to prevent technology firms that track in-store shoppers from creating shopper profiles linked to their devices.
From geofencing to Wi-Fi to Bluetooth, the latest retail technology allows stores to track shoppers upon entry via their smartphones, although not every retailer is upfront about what’s happening. Apple, though, says it can prevent the secret spying with its new operating system.
Apple told software developers that the latest iOS, which comes out this fall, can randomize MAC identifiers (every phone has a unique identification number called a MAC address), according to a Bloomberg Businessweek article today. The piece cited a report from Frederic Jacobs, a security researcher, who posted this on Twitter: “Hoping that this becomes an industry standard.”
What Apple is doing would thwart technology-marketing companies that set up hardware in retail stores to analyze patterns of in-store shoppers and create profiles. The companies track mobile devices, and may not be able to connect your device to your name, but they are able to pick up information that they can in turn sell to retailers. It’s possible for Android users to disable the tracking, but Businessweek points out that it takes some work to do so.
This is not the first time in-store tracking has come up in the retail industry. A survey of consumers from OpinionLab found that 77 percent of respondents find in-store tracking unacceptable, and 81 percent said they do not trust retailers to keep their data private and secure.
At the urging of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer last summer, the Federal Trade Commission began paying attention to this issue and made in-store tracking and privacy the subject of a conference held in February. The Wireless Registry for the Future of Privacy Forum now offers an opt-out platform released in cooperation with Schumer and it has also developed a code of conduct adopted by 11 mobile location analytics firms that provide retailers with data from in-store tracking such as Aislelabs, Euclid and Path Intelligence.
Apple’s move, of course, would make these efforts moot, at least for those who own iPhones with the new operating system installed.
A side benefit for Apple in protecting privacy? It has its own rival tracking system based on Bluetooth technology called iBeacon that it has been testing in its own stores since December. The difference is, though, it’s one that shoppers opt into. Virgin Atlantic and the retailer Tesco have been trying it out in London, too, according to ZDNet which reports that in addition to being able to provide consumers who use it with news about special deals, the “technology could be a big step towards mobile payments.”
Meanwhile this in-store tracking prevention strategy is not the only privacy-centric move that Apple has made at its developers conference. Last week, Duck Duck Go, which offers an anonymous search engine, confirmed its partnership with Apple to be the company’s built-in search engine for the soon-to-be released iOS and OSX operating systems. Duck Duck Go offers an alternative to Google search, with ads that say “Google tracks you. We don’t.”
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