In Surveillance News, Nordstrom is Probably Watching You While You Shop

In disturbing but not all-together shocking news, we’re being watched. Again.

OK, so it's not quite NSA-level stuff, but the New York Times reports that stores like Nordstrom, Benetton, and Warby Parker are using mobile surveillance technologies via WiFi signals on customer smartphones to gather information including movement throughout the store, how long a customer spent in a particular section, and tracking actions within apps to trace your shopping habits. All of this combines with video surveillance to connect the dots.

Here’s how all that works:

Even if you don’t connect to a store’s WiFi network, if your WiFi capabilities are turned on, the store can still track the phone. Once the store has connected, they will recognize returning shoppers, utilizing the information gathered to see how often the customer comes back.

There’s even a software start-up in Russia called Synqera that, according to the New York Times, sells devices that measure facial recognition and offer up tailored marketing messages based on age, gender, and even mood, in return. Mood, guys. The example the Times gives is of an angry 30 year-old man; he’d have a bottle of whisky marketed at him. (Cue the eye roll.)

All of this is supposed to help a store provide a better shopping experience for a customer, but many are worried it’s breaching levels of privacy, especially since the technologies then communicate back with customers through apps on their smartphones.

If you have a specific retailer’s app, you’ve volunteered some personal information, and when you enter the store, they can provide you with coupons or deals tailored to your interests. For instance, if you’ve been tracked spending a half hour browsing bracelets, you might get a 20 percent off jewelry promo in return.

Should the tracking give you the creeps, just turn off the WiFi. And try to avoid Bitchy Resting Face.