tech tuesday: who is watching you

CCTV camera wikipediaOnline nearly our every move is tracked.

Offline, nearly all of them are too.

There is inherently no difference between the two. And yet, intellectually for most people there is and it’s no better demonstrated by the latest uproar in how the digital and physical world’s meet.

“what strange nature is this knowledge…?” – Mary Shelley

Recently, Nordstrom made it known to customers in select locations it would monitor their activities by using the ping from Wi-Fi signals off customer’s smartphones. Most cellphone users apparently don’t seem to realize the GPS data of their physical activity is already being mined to begin with or that the in-store CCTV isn’t just about anti-theft and has been tracking their shopping habits for years but somehow tacking one’s movement’s in store serendipitously off their WiFi is a big no-no.

Nordstrom is far from the first retailer to use this and many brick-and-mortar consider this kind of shopper intelligence akin to cookie tracking that online entities use but it drew special attention because of the kind of campaign this was. It seems to many as being very Orwellian in its nature, somehow more invasive than all the already invasive stuff being done to begin with.

As if the Macy’s QR code discounting campaign over the holidays, the Amazon snap-and-save app and other retailer in-store digital campaigns weren’t designed to drive at exactly the same type of data collection and behavior modification in the psyodigital world.


Nordstrom’s only fault is in its communication to customers defining the kind of surveillance, ahem, business intelligence, it was collecting. Had it positioned itself as “watching” the consumer in order to deliver them recommendations, discounts or assistance in locating merchandise more effectively (among a number of other positioning) customers would have readily embraced it.

And that’s exactly the point. When given the opportunity to trade privacy for convenience many, if not most, will.

Although there is a part of me infinitely fearful of personalized pricing that’s already under testing in certain retailers. It began with the advent of loyalty cards collecting purchasing data and then delivering coupons to the customer based on their previous buying habits. The store retail price is the same for all customers on the shelves but with the redemption of the targeted coupon some could pay significantly less. Dynamic pricing takes this one step further by presenting the revised price ofa particular subset of items up-front rather than a discount off of checkout. For example, some grocers with on-the-go checkout are able to display tiered pricing during shopping experience on the hand-held self-check device. The ongoing debate if dynamic pricing is fair to consumers or will ultimately prove a valuable market place positing for either retailers or brands is still largely unknown, but it does exist simply because of the kind of consumer tracking that already is in play. To gain the possibility of these special discounts shoppers routinely (and almost eagerly at times) give up vast amounts of their personal data.

Furthermore, the idea of recommendations based on your purchasing habits in person already is in play as well based on exactly the same kind of data collection that is evoked in dynamic pricing. The coupons you receive, the types of circulars send to your home and email are all based on your previous purchasing habits targeted to try and get you to experiment with new or complimentary brands and items. Comparison shopping bridging brick-and-mortar with digital information through code scanners and other related apps takes it one step further. And again, it’s all done by consumers seemingly without fear of the information they allow to be tracked.

As has been noted in a series of recent alarmist articles even just collecting some basic information at the point-of-sale such as your zip code and your sex and approximate age marketers can pretty much begin to narrow down pre-existing data lists to isolate you and propose any number of possible retail scenarios to you.

And, for years big box retailers have studied the aggregated foot traffic of the consumers trekking into their stores. It was a combination of watching their movements on CCTV with store sales data to begin to draw conclusions about floor planning, promotional placements, etc. The more modern interpretations of this begin to slowly strip away much of the aggregate data, exposing more connections between the individual data points.

The uproar shouldn’t be targeted specifically at Nordstrom or any of the other similar retailers taking these new steps, it should be at our individual selves and the society of purchasers that we are for not understanding the ramifications of our previous consent more readily in the past to see exactly what is happening now, or shortly to come in the future.

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About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny: https://thedmouse.wordpress.com/about-thedmouse/
This entry was posted in business commentary, Opinion, tech tuesday/thursday. Bookmark the permalink.

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