Imagine a world where receptors are able to detect people coming into a place without the tracked person’s knowledge, perceiving and recording their motions every time they move. Big Brother is watching, but this is no nightmare. It’s already happening.
Euclid Analytics, a Palo-Alto based startup focused on providing tracking solutions to retailers, aims to provide critically valuable information regarding consumer interests. It has implemented a system that makes it possible for store managers across the country to track consumers on the micro level, by focusing on individual consumers. Euclid’s technology feeds off of ping signals given by individuals’ smartphones on a regular basis, and tracks each smartphone’s unique MAC addresses (that allow it to connect to a network). The tracking even goes down to the level of an individual store aisle and can note how long each consumer stays in a certain place.
With the overwhelming rate of adoptions for smartphones, such technology is slowly proving itself as invaluable to modern brick-and-mortar stores struggling to compete against online retailers chipping away at their profit margins. In fact, this technology has already been adopted by many familiar brands: Nordstrom, Home Depot–around 4,000 stores in all. The practical applications of this micro-level technology are enormous: when stores can see which aisles and locations are popular for consumers to hang around, they know which products to promote. Also, by knowing exactly how many customers come in during certain parts of the day, staffing can be adjusted accordingly.
The overall development is certainly very useful on the commercial end, but one must consider societal implications. Is this technology an overall good, considering the enormous costs of privacy linked to it? Big Brother truly is watching. It isn’t the government in this case, but the technology can easily be abused to be used by the government in tracking individuals. One article compared Euclid’s elaborate tracking system to ankle monitors used by prisons, but posed the question: “who needs ankle monitors if you have a smartphone?” This has led to much recent controversy over how far “targeted marketing” can go.
Privacy advocates have understandably raised numerous concerns, which politicians such as Senator Al Franken have taken on – he calls for more than the opt-out system Euclid offers for consumers who prefer to protect their privacy rights. Even so, Euclid has demonstrated commitment towards protecting privacy, although many remain skeptical. Franken notes that given the nature of the product, Americans can no longer expect “the standard of privacy (they) should be able to count on.”
The time is ripe for controversy; in an age where many are slowly ceding their privacy to large social media companies such as Facebook, one must ask how valuable this “standard of privacy” is. With our adoption of so many sharing-based social media sites, should privacy even be an expectation in this day and age? Given the rapid spread of Euclid’s technology, it appears that we haven’t even been given the chance to fully understand the question.
Photo Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office (Russia)