Stores use technology to ‘spy’ on customers

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We all know stores use cameras to make sure you aren't taking something from them, but do you know how they may be using cameras and other technology to take something from you?

From mannequins whose eyes are fitted with video cameras, to tracking your cellphone as you walk through a store, companies are even using facial recognition technology that gives a store unique information about their customers base.

It's all being used, mostly in test markets.

Some says it's efficient, others say it's scary.

"It's new technology, but it's certainly not a new technique," said David Cecil, owner of marketing company Johnny Lightening Strikes Again.

For years, marketing companies have been collecting data on consumers. The more knowledge they have, the better they can cater to your wants and needs. But this new technology is making collecting data even easier and much more invasive says Doug Bonney, Legal Director with the ACLU.

"You know spying on your customers in ways that they have idea that you're doing it is creepy," Bonney said.

Stores like Target, Nordstrom and Home Depot use a company called Euclid Analytics to track your every move inside their stores.

"There are two ways to track people. One is just by the normal signal that you're cellphone sends out. In addition, if you have a smartphone though, they can track you by getting you to log on to their WiFi network, then that gives the retailer increased ways to track you and to send you information about deals," Bonney said.

How does it work?

Every person carrying a WiFi-enabled smartphone, sometimes not even logged on to the store's WiFi network, is automatically tracked -- each footstep recorded as they walk through the store. Ultimately, the store knows what departments a shopper visits and how long they spend there.

"That's kind of scary, you know," Bonney said.

But Cecil says the more a company knows about their consumers, the better they can reach them.

"There are a lot of benefits, even from a consumer standpoint for some of this information that companies are able to learn about our behaviors and our likes and dislikes," Cecil said.

Cecil also says it's just a way for the retail to avoid costly marketing mistakes.

Other stores are using eye-level cameras to track your eye movements and reactions to displays and products. One company called "Almax" equips mannequins with camera eyes to gather facial recognition data, giving stores unique data about their shoppers.

"That's a business model that is certainly not new. Its been happening since kind of the dawn of consumerism as a whole. It's just that we're able to fine tune that a little more and have a lot more accurate information as to what people like, what people are searching for, even where people are," Cecil said.

Bonney says the problem with this is there are no laws that require people be notified that companies are tracking such information.

"Usually when information is there, it will be misused. That's the real problem with collecting lots of information on people without any regulation at all. It can be misused and eventually it will be misused," Bonney said.

Who uses this technology?

Nordstrom told FOX 4 they only used Euclid in 17 test markets around the country and all of the tracking was anonymous. They are no longer using the company.

Home Depot also released a statement saying they no longer use Euclid Analytics to track customers.

Many other stores didn't return calls for comment and Target said they won't disclose what third-party companies they are using to collect data on their customers.

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2 comments

  • Jim

    I visited Home Depot yesterday, looked at the new Philips Hue light bulbs, which apparently use WiFi to interface to your network for control via a smartphone. I didn’t purchase, just looked in the store. Later then that night I come home, log on to YouTube on my Roku, and the first video that pops up is ‘Before you buy, check out this video about Philips Hue light bulbs.’. Wow…and I do not even own a smartphone, just a TracFone. Coincidence? This article makes me wonder.

  • Di

    I dont know what Home Depot uses, but we just returned from Home Depot and when we went to give them our military discount, they said the register already picked it up. I thought he was kidding, but I saw it for myself on the register before he even scanned our merchandise. I left feeling a little creeped out so went home and googled what their doing. So they might not be using Euclid Technologies anymore, but their using something in its place.