Mobile marketing is nothing new, given that SMS advertising and Bluetooth proximity broadcasts have been around for years, but tracking companies still have great plans for handset owners. A new startup called Euclid Elements plans to track retail shoppers by monitoring the MAC addresses their Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones broadcast usually and identify returning customers while keeping their privacy a priority.
According to the company, the tracking process is strictly related to monitoring the MAC address of the wireless card in the smartphone, a unique identifier that is recorded by a sensor when the shopper enters the store. The collected data is stored for 18 months in the companyâ€™s database, which then becomes available to the retailer in an aggregated form.
Even if the data provided to the retailer is not enough to identify a unique visitor because of the aggregation, fears of privacy invasion, direct or indirect, have started to show. The companyâ€™s detailed logs about the shopping habits of millions of Americans might land into the wrong hands following a data breach. Although the company offers an opt-out mechanism, it involves visiting a page on Euclidâ€™s web site.
“Once shoppers give up this information, in some cases without realizing it, it’s out of their hands,” says Parker Higgins, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “A data breach, a government subpoena, an overreaching retailer — all these things can mean invasions of personal privacy in ways people have no control over.“
Euclid is not the only technology provider that collects Wi-Fi related information. Microsoft and Google are only two of the companies that maintain databases of mobile devices, while others (including social networks such as Foursquare) rely on Wi-Fi information to improve the position of the phone on the GPS map.