Wi-Fi Surveillance: Too Invasive or Good for Consumers?2 min read

Let's go shopping!Nordstorm made waves on news networks when it was revealed that they were tracking the foot traffic in their stores based off customers’ Wi-Fi signals. It raised a number of concerns from the customers — no one knew this type of monitoring took place. Customers reported distress from being monitored in such a fashion by Nordstorm, whether or not it was anonymous. Customers are rightfully angry, but monitoring isn’t without its pros.

Wi-Fi Surveillance: Nay

A big data strategy gathers multiple forms of information on business clients, customers and locations to provide behavioral and buying data to a company. However, the company doesn’t always disclose the type of information gathered. A situation such as Nordstorm causes quite an uproar because no one consented to Big Brother monitoring of their shopping experiences. Hackers using Wi-Fi surveillance to break into smartphones and other mobile devices is also a fear. If there’s a way for the system to be compromised, it’s possible the network connection could cause issues with the devices it’s monitoring. Information Week emphasizes that privacy concerns are the main issue with big data.

Many customers feel like they can’t turn around without feeling like a company is tracking what they’re doing. Consumers are used to this online, due to tracking cookies, adware and API-based log-ins, such as Facebook log-ins. While this has been par for course with websites, it’s nowhere near as common in brick-and-mortar stores. Customers are unsettled by security cameras that keep footage for days afterward, let alone a surveillance system that sees their every movement through their cell phone.

Wi-Fi Surveillance: Yay

Pro surveillance argues that Nordstorm uses this information for the betterment of the customer experience. This justification is used for data mining and big data gathering with wireless providers. If you’ve ever looked at a related ad in your Gmail inbox through a provider such as CenturyLink DSL or gone through Amazon-recommended products, chances are high the information was generated by your online activity. The Nordstorm incident is the brick-and-mortar variation of this type of market research gathering. More companies will try to incorporate market research gathering into their physical locations, in order to compete against e-commerce stores.

A company can reach a compromise with their customers by communicating about methods used to gather information. For example, let customers opt in an app for the store that provides foot path information from the smartphone with the customer’s permission. LifeHacker reports Facebook uses the data it collects from your online activities to present relevant advertising, making it more likely you’ll be interested in the ads. Tracking, such as Nordstrom’s, can, in a way, improve your future shopping experience.

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Austin Milbarge

Austin Milbarge is passionate about liberty, and writes about it from his cabin in Wyoming.

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