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A willingness to be tracked


New applications for smartphones signal an evolution in how shoppers view tracking. For some, privacy is no longer a concern but a commodity capable of being cashed in at stores for perks.

An example of this new outlook is the downloadable application Shopkick. Once installed, it generates “kickbucks” for users who walk into certain stores and scan certain items with their digital devices. Shoppers can then redeem kickbucks for merchandise or discounts. Businesses like Macy’s, Target and Best Buy activate Shopkick on customers’ cell phones by way of inaudible sound waves transmitted through public address systems.

In return for using the app, consumers accept that their actions are tracked. From Shopkick, stores receive valuable information about patrons, which can help shape future marketing strategies. Shopping habits identified include which clothes people try on and what shelves and racks receive customer consideration.

Other modern tracking systems – not necessarily associated with Shopkick and similar apps – employ even more futuristically invasive techniques. Heat mapping can detect where customers walk within a store and which products they touch. Other technologies can determine where people look while inside a shop, as to determine types of displays effective at nabbing attention. Tracking in this manner is excessive, nosy and seems like a scene ripped from a high-tech, materialistic adaptation of 1984.

But Big Brother, Shopkick is not. The difference is that, dissimilar to when customers are unwittingly filmed by heat-mapping cameras, people can opt out of this application. To turn off a smartphone’s GPS renders the tracking nonfunctional.

In such a setup, the choice of privacy belongs to consumers – as is appropriate. Some people believe shopping perks are worth their smartphones relaying personal habits back to stores. As long as tracking remains a choice, apps like Shopkick are an innocuous way to save money for customers who don’t mind businesses watching attentively.

The alternative is objectionable. If too much ground is given in permitting tracking – especially when stores gather data sweepingly and without consumer consent – then the insatiable drive for customer statistics will infringe upon people’s basic, essential rights of privacy.



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