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Shoppers' boycott over 'big brother' spying?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 05, 2012

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Shoppers have threatened to boycott a major retail centre after learning it uses mobile phone signals to track their movements.

Customers of Exeter's Princesshay development were outraged over a system which automatically picks up mobile phone signals to log where people go in the complex. The only way to opt out is to switch off your mobile.

Small signs have been displayed to inform customers, but many were unaware they were being monitored.

Princesshay insists that no personal data is stored at any time, and says the technology is used to improve shopper experience by changing layout and staffing according to use.

Director Wayne Pearce insisted shoppers remain “anonymous” at all times.

Nick Pickles, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, condemned the technology, saying: “You are not asked whether you want to give someone the right to track your movements.”

The FootPath technology, developed by Path Intelligence, works through units placed in shops which detect the changing signals of mobile phones.

Shopper Hilda Luscombe said: “We shouldn’t have to switch off our phones to opt out. This is just spying on us and may result in driving

customers away.

“I will certainly think twice about whether or not to come to Princesshay.”

And Elizabeth Hore said: “What a gross invasion of our privacy. Simple answer –

boycott shopping there.”

Sharon Biggar, chief executive of Path Intelligence, said: “I want to reassure people this is in no way an invasion of privacy. We cannot identify shopper’s information. We cannot identify phone numbers or who an individual customer is. It is very much like watching dots walking around a room.”

She likened the system to satellite tracking of traffic congestion, which also uses mobile phone technology.

She said the company held “no personal information about any individual”, adding: “You are not asked for consent when you shop online.”

The FootPath technology used in Princesshay merely counts shopper numbers and the journeys taken around

the centre by mobile phones.

FootPath works by detecting a randomly generated, frequently changing signal from mobile phones.

Ms Biggar said the technology was “widespread”, but declined to comment on whether it was used elsewhere in the Westcountry. Plymouth’s Drake Circus told the Western Morning News that they do not use the system.

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