Privacy is Dead

Small Biz Owners Are Stalking Your Every Move Via Smartphone

They're gonna know you shop at Hollister.

This little guy knows all your secrets. (Wikimedia Commons)

This little guy knows all your secrets. (Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t trust your beloved smartphone, because there’s a chance he could be cheating on your with your friendly neighborhood pizza joint.

A feature in the Wall Street Journal examines a slightly alarming new marketing trend: businesses are using sensors placed discreetly around the city to track their customers’ daily habits and interests. 

Toronto-based Turnstyle Solutions Inc., for example, has placed 200 playing card-sized sensors in different locations around the city’s downtown area. The sensors can track the movements of any passersby carrying WiFi-enabled smartphones.

That means Turnstyle’s clients—like the Asian restaurant profiled in the article—can see when their customers are hitting up Starbucks, shopping for clothes, or partying it up in da club. The clients can then use that data to tailor marketing ploys specifically to their customers. The Asian restaurant, for instance, recently came out with a line of workout tops because its owner knew his customers were using the gym a lot. 

It sounds pretty crazy and intrusive, but apparently “us[ing] sensors to analyze foot-traffic patterns, [is] largely within an individual retailer’s properties to glean insight about customer behavior,” and it’s a trend that’s becoming popular in the world of marketing. Urghhhhh. 

In some ways, we hate the idea that our trusty smartphones could be giving away all our secrets to some nearby sushi restaurant without our permission. Does the dude who owns the local tanning salon really have to know that we went to Starbucks 17 times last week? And, perhaps more alarmingly, should it freak us out that businesses might be able to learn our really personal information, like how many times we visited the doctor last month, or where we drop our kids off at school?

But then again, let’s be honest: if we get a free Starbucks gift card the next time we go for Indian food, we’re gonna be happy campers, indeed. 

Follow Jordyn Taylor on Twitter or via RSS. jtaylor@observer.com