01-04-2012, 07:42 PM
Direct Action Resistance Fighter
Joined: Aug 2006
Shopping centre admits to using 'Big Brother' scanners using mobile phone signals
Quote:A shopping centre in Exeter has been accused of using Big Brother tactics after it was revealed to be using 'Footpath' mobile scanner technology.
Civil liberties groups are outraged that bosses of Princesshay shopping centre in Exeter are using the technology to scan mobile phones in the shopping centre, with no warning bar a tiny yellow sign.
Princesshay is just one of several major stores that use Footpath, according to the company behind the scanners. Footpath has been used - with little publicity - for the past four years in the UK.
A yellow sign on the premises is the only warning that the technology is in use.
No current mobile phone has a ‘defence’ against such scanners. The only way to be safe is simply to switch off. The information is then passed on to retailers.
Wayne Pearson, the centre director at Princesshay said there was nothing sinister about what they were doing.
'It uses the anonymous signal from a mobile phone that connects it to the local network.There is no way we can track an individual - we can only use aggregated data.'
'We use the data to monitor pedestrian flows around the centre.
This technology allows to assess where they go once they’re here.It’s of great benefit to us and our retailers. We have no idea which individuals have been in Princesshay.We’re not interested in that.
Nick Pickles from Big Brother Watch was concerned about the implications.
He said: 'The only way to opt out is to turn your mobile phone off.You’re not asked if you want to take part - you’re not asked if you want to opt out.
It is assumed that the shopping centre has the automatic right to track people’s mobile phones - to me that’s wrong.'
'It’s simple,' says Sharon Biggar of Path Intelligence, the firm behind Footpath technology.
She said: 'We are very open with the public and it’s why we ask clients to put up signs saying the system is in operation.There is no invasion of privacy - we’ve had our system cleared by the information commissioner. It’s very much like watching dots moving around the screen.
Retail is struggling to compete with online retail and online retailers have lots of help. They know what we view when we go to their website.
'They know everything about you. We’ve allowed offline retailers to compete with online retailers by giving them back some of that information.
'Our FootPath technology allows us to monitor the path you take as you travel through premises belonging to any of our clients,' says Path Intelligence, the company behind the technology.
The technology is already in use in several 'major' retail chains in the UK - although Biggar does not say which.
'We have been installed in various places since 2008,' said Biggar.
When entering premises with Footpath technology, the customer receives no warning that their mobile phone signal is being monitored bar a small sign somewhere on the premises.
Crucially, though, they do not receive an option to 'opt-out' of being scanned.
Customers on all networks will be scanned by Footpath, and no current mobile phone has a 'defence' against such scanners. The only way to be safe is simply to switch off.
'FootPath works by detecting a frequently changing signal from your mobile phone,' says the company. 'This random signal is detected by a number of our units within the premises.
'We combine the information detected from the mobile phone signal with a proprietary mathematical algorithm developed by us. This allows us to determine your path through premises equipped with our receiver units.'
'We cannot store individual mobile phone numbers and do not read SMS texts or phone calls,' says Ms Biggar. 'We 'hash' the data immediately so that no computer or person within Path Intelligence ever knows the number.'
Privacy advocates worry, though, that merely harvesting that sort of data leaves stores open to hackers or employees misusing the information.
'Store security cameras are a bigger privacy violation - they CAN identify you.'
'Sat-navs such as TomTom also already scan for mobile phone signals to work out where there are traffic jams.'
Ms Biggar says the technology is largely used to help stores redesign to maximise sales.
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