Mobile Device Tracking

Federal Trade Commission
Feb. 19, 2014
10 a.m. to noon

Recently, retailers and other businesses have begun tracking consumers’ movements throughout and around retail stores and other attractions using technologies that identify signals emitted by their mobile devices. While the technologies differ, many work by identifying and collecting the MAC address – which is unique to a particular device – broadcast when a mobile device searches for Wi-Fi networks. Companies can use these technologies to reveal information about consumers including the path taken throughout a location, length of time in one location, whether a visitor is new or returning, and the frequency of visits to a location. According to media reports, major retailers in the United States are using or have tested the technology in their stores in order to gain insights into the behavior of their customers.

In most cases, this tracking is invisible to consumers and occurs with no consumer interaction. As a result, the use of these technologies raises a number of potential privacy concerns and questions. The seminar will address questions such as:

  • What different types of mobile device tracking are companies currently implementing, how do they work, and where are they used?
  • What are potential future uses of these technologies?
  • What are the similarities or differences between mobile device tracking and online tracking technologies?
  • What types of information and benefits do retailers gain from these technologies?
  • What benefits do consumers derive from these technologies?
  • What are the privacy and security risks associated with these technologies?
  • How are companies addressing these risks?
  • What information and choices are provided to consumers about this type of tracking?
  • How anonymous is the tracking?
  • How can companies implement the principles of privacy by design, simplified consumer choice, and increased transparency when designing and using these technologies?