The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a workshop on Wednesday discussing mobile location analytics (MLA), which many retailers, malls, airports and other businesses use to track customer movements within and around retail stores. MLA companies use wireless technologies to identify and collect consumers’ MAC addresses, which are unique to individual mobile devices and are broadcast whenever a mobile device searches for a Wi-Fi network. The purpose of collecting the MAC address is to track customers within a particular location in order to collect data on shopping and traffic patterns. The data is collected without consumer interaction, and in most instances, without the consumer’s knowledge. Analytics companies argue they are not collecting personally identifiable information. However, MAC addresses are unique to individual wireless devices and the potential exists for MAC address to be linked to individuals.
As a result of consumer privacy concerns, MLA companies have adopted a Code of Conduct, which includes signage requirements at retail locations, privacy notices on MLA company websites, limits on the types of information that is collected, (i.e., no personal information), adoption of internal data retention policies, participation in consumer education through a central industry site, and the creation of a Central Opt-Out website, which is available at www.smartstoreprivacy.org.