What companies are learning about you from smartphones

(FOX19) - FOX19 Tech Expert Dave Hatter has some valuable tips about how information can be learned about you from your smartphone.

Hatter appears on Wednesday's FOX19 Morning News.

Here are some key points from Hatter:

Phones using Wi-Fi broadcast a MAC (media access control) address when Wi-Fi is enabled that can be captured and used to track you. This is nothing new. All computers connected to a network have a MAC address. It's used to route data to and from the device.

A store can anonymously ping customer's phones via their Wi-Fi network to get the MAC address and if Wi-Fi is enabled, the MAC address can be collected without your explicit permission. Stores want this because they can determine things like average visit duration, walk-by traffic, peak times, unique visitors and repeat customers.

In some instances, a customer can opt-in to get push notifications and deals which potentially allows the retailer to capture additional information from the phone such as age, gender, contact information, etc.

Turnstyle is a leader in this space.

"We don't know who you are," Chris Gilpin, co-founder of Turnstyle Solutions, told the Toronto Star for a story published Sunday. "But we know this is your fifth time (in a store) this week and on average you spend 20 minutes."

From the Turnstyle web site:

"Once a relationship is established with the customer, shoppers' smartphones will automatically sign on to the WiFi going forward and you will be able to communicate directly with them via push notifications."

You will also be able to enable location and time sensitive campaigns personalized for each type of customer through your Turnstyle dashboard.

Turnstyle adds additional metadata to captured data including the type of location which can then be shared with other customers. So a record store might be able to know that your phone also likes yogurt.

In the interest of privacy, the software converts the MAC address into an unique identifier that can't be traced to an individual but the system will know if the same device returns.

Turnstyle allows its stores' customers to opt out or delete their MAC address if they want. But they have to know they have been collected first.

Stores can post signs that the technology is in use but there is no requirement to do so and otherwise, there is no way you know.

At the present time, there is no governing law on this technology.

Turnstyle has more than 500 customers using this technology.

Your information, even that collected anonymously, could be sold without your knowledge or consent.

Ryan Calo, assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, told The Wall Street Journal in a story published Jan. 13, that places where people didn't think they were being watched are now repositories for collecting information.

"Companies are increasingly able to connect between our online and offline lives," he told the paper.

The only way to prevent the anonymous tracking is to turn off Wi-Fi.

Other startups, such as San Francisco-based Euclid Analytics Inc., use sensors to analyze foot-traffic patterns, largely within an individual retailer's properties to glean insight about customer behavior.

There is an increasing appetite to capture location data regardless of technique.

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