Addressing privacy issues around advertising technology and online tracking has been a key component of the Future of Privacy Forum’s work since its founding eight years ago. Increasingly, the mobile advertising space and location technologies are at the forefront of innovative new consumer offerings and emerging privacy questions about how to appropriately handle consumer data. It is not surprising that complex tracking and audience measurement technologies can raise both consumer concerns and regulator interest.
New technologies, which rely on the fact that most people carry a mobile device, now allow venues such as airports, stores, and hotels to receive signals from devices that are in or near them. If your mobile device has Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on, it broadcasts a unique number – called a MAC address – that can be logged by Wi-Fi equipment or Bluetooth sensors. A MAC address is simply a 12-character string of letters and numbers; it doesn’t contain personal information like your name, email address, or phone number.
Since a MAC address is unique to each device, special analytics software can be used to generate reports about customer traffic in a store based on the MAC addresses that are detected at any given time (see sample reports here). For instance, a venue can learn how many unique customers walk into it, and the path customers take as they move around. A venue can then use this information to improve customer service – by making sure there are enough employees available, reducing wait times, or improving venue layouts.
Mobile location analytics companies that have agreed to FPF’s Mobile Location Analytics Code of Conduct, which was announced with Senator Schumer (D-NY) in October, will honor the requests of consumers who wish to opt-out of having their location collected. Consumers opt-out by entering their phones’ Wi-Fi or Bluetooth MAC address at smart-places.org.