Businesses Are Tracking Your Habits–But How Much Information Is Too Much

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It’s no secret marketers are trying to get information about customer activity and habits online. Now some businesses are taking it a step further–using pocket-sized sensors to glean information from consumers’ Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones as they go about their day. Is this behavior tracking going too far?

Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Wall Street Journal examined several startups that are using data from smartphones to help businesses better target customers based on their activities and interests. She interviewed the founders of several startup companies using this technology and their customers, as well as privacy experts.

” geolocation companies could infer from a customer’s online searches that he/she has a certain illness, and may track that customer to his/her doctor or hospital, before potentially selling that information to marketers.”

Euclid Analytics, a San Francisco-based tech company founded by the team behind Google Analytics, works with retailers to assemble and analyze foot traffic patterns in restaurants and coffee shops, specialty retailers and big box stores. The technology works like this: sensors the size of a deck of playing cards are placed in the store that pick up “pings” off smartphones, and are used to gather information about shoppers.

Two Toronto-based companies take it a step further. Turnstyle Solutions, Inc. tracks information such as how long a shopper stays in a store, whether a promotion brought them in, and whether it’s their first visit or they’re a repeat customer. The owner of Happy Child, an Asian restaurant in Toronto, used Turnstyle to discover that a number of his customers belonged to gyms, so he started selling workout gear with the restaurant’s logo on it. “Instead of offering a general promotion that may or may not hit a nerve, we can promote specifically to the customer’s taste,” Fan Zhang told the Journal.

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This content has been updated on August 23, 2014 at 14 h 14 min.