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Smartphone Owners Beware: Retailers Are Watching You With Wi-Fi

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In-store Wi-Fi may come with some unexpected kinks.
Kristin Marshall: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21367361@N02/4842715000
In-store Wi-Fi may come with some unexpected kinks.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill on Thursday that would force stores to notify customers if they are monitoring their shopping habits via in-house Wi-Fi networks.

Montgomery County Del. Sam Arora says this happens a lot, though most people are probably not aware of it when they enter a store.

"If you have a smartphone that is Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-enabled, it's constantly broadcasting your information, including your individualized address," Arora says. "As you go around a store, they can figure out where exactly in the store you are and your movements. And pairing it with their cameras, they can track which products you're looking at and build a dossier on you."

Arora says he's heard of stories about stores using the information to send people offers on the products they might buy to their phones while in the store. He believes most people accept this will happen when they shop online because of Internet cookies, but in-person shopping is far different.

"If the store had the manpower, they could send people to follow you and track you," he says. "There's just something... that raises the 'ick factor' when they're using your own smartphone to do it. And no one necessarily knows about it."

Arora's bill doesn't actually stop the practice, but does make stores post notifications, so shoppers can alter their phones if they wish not to be tracked.


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