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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Forest City Suspends Shopper Tracking Program After Senator Raises Privacy Concerns

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 12:49 PM

They know youre going to Spencers.
  • They know you're going to Spencer's.

Cleveland’s own Forest City Enterprises used Black Friday to launch a program that tracks shopper traffic via their cell phones as they wander Forest City’s malls. Guinea pigs in California and Virginia were anonymously monitored and their movements logged on a map. (Ohio malls were not used because obese shoppers tend to delay data collection.) Signs posted at the malls alerted shoppers to the survey.

But just as quickly as the test popped up, it was shut down. New York Senator Charles Schumer cited privacy concerns — most notably that shoppers weren’t able to opt into the program and unwittingly open themselves up to hackers.

“A shopper’s personal cell phone should not be used by a third party as a tracking device by retailers who are seeking to determine holiday shopping patterns,” he said in a statement.

Forest City’s Jeff Linton says the company has reached out to the senator and discussed solutions with the system developer, but there is no time frame for relaunching the tracking system.

“We recognize that protection of personal information and privacy is a major concern,” he says. “We were very confident that the system fully protects all private information. All it does is detect a cell phone signal and create a dot on a map.”

But is it useful? Linton says the information, which would be beamed directly to the robot that lives inside Sam Miller’s head, could be used by malls to decide how to group stores based on common shopping patterns, whether to install a Starbucks between every store or every other store, and to prove that, yes, people do in fact buy those edible bras at Spencer Gifts.

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