Are Shoppers Entitled to Privacy While They Shop?

Discussion
Mar 15, 2013

Despite Scott McNealy’s assertion to the contrary (“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”), many people believe that a right to privacy comes with being American. While most of the attention has been focused on online tracking, others question the need for companies to track consumer movement in physical stores.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) recently wrote a letter to Will Smith, CEO of Euclid, a firm that tracks consumer behavior in stores via their smartphones, requesting the company only follow those consumers who opt-in to the service.

"It’s one thing to track someone’s shopping habits through a loyalty card or credit card purchase; folks understand that their information may be collected," Sen. Franken wrote. "People have a fundamental right to privacy, and I think neglecting to ask consumers for their permission to track them violates that right."

Do you agree that consumers have a fundamental right to privacy? Should consumers only be tracked in physical stores if they have agreed to be?

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23 Comments on "Are Shoppers Entitled to Privacy While They Shop?"


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Nikki Baird
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Nikki Baird
6 years 1 month ago
Maybe I have an outlier point of view on this topic, but I’m with Scott McNealy on this one. I don’t understand the people who freak out over privacy in the public domain. I do understand that some of the online tracking things are beyond creepy and should really require an opt-in, but with stores, I scratch my head. If I’m shopping in a store and I run into a neighbor who recognizes me, am I supposed to shriek and cover up my basket and say “Don’t talk to me! I have a right to privacy while I’m outside in the world where anyone can see me anyway and actually, I’m inside a store that is technically owned by the retailer, who has made it available to the general public!”? At my children’s school, they won’t distribute class lists because of “privacy concerns” – even though I see all of those children (and half their parents) as they line up for school every day. I don’t get it. The difference to me is that online… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

You know, I answered this question as “Agree Completely” but the truth is, whether they have the fundamental right or not, they have the power of the wallet. And that means, if they find out you’ve invaded their personal space in some manner, shape or form that’s beyond what they are willing to give you…they’ll go somewhere else.

So I wouldn’t nitpick so much about “rights and privileges.” We can leave that to the lawyers. What’s most important to retailers is “What will sell.” Intrusiveness doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Consumers should have a right to determine the degree to which data is used for advertising and promotional purposes. If folks want to participate, then by all means—serve them the coupons, promotions, incentives and whatever else marketers believe will affect a sale.

Shoppers should, however, be given the choice! ‘Sniffing’ out wireless signals and then pitching the device has nothing to do with enhancing the shopper’s experience. It is just another veiled method to give some media sales company yet another set of eyeballs to add to the CPM equation. Brands that use these methods should be exposed and let the global shopper community decide.

Joan Treistman
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Those of us who adhere to CASRO and ISO Marketing Research standards won’t interview respondents unless they first agree to be interviewed. And we promise (are obligated) not to disclose their identities. No answer is linked to a particular respondent.

Al Franken’s request is in concert with these standards. First ask people if they agree to be tracked. With their permission you can. And without it you should not.  Remember “do not call” lists? It’s just a matter of time and awareness for consumers to advocate for a “do not track me on my smart phone” list.

By the way, could Euclid be accused of stalking?

Gene Detroyer
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Over the years, there have been many techniques of studying consumer behavior while they are in the store. Initially, it was by observation. Later, video techniques were used. Now technology has provided another tool. There is no difference, as long as we are talking about behavior in the store and nothing more.

Once in the store, the shopper is in someone else’s territory and must play by the rules of that someone. If they don’t like those rules, don’t go in the store. It is the retailer’s domain, not the shopper’s.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I’m with Joan—this is stalking behavior and nobody has a right to track my cellphone without my permission.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
6 years 1 month ago
How do you define privacy, or rather the invasion of privacy in a Brick and Mortar environment? Is it that the retailer monitors your shopping habits/path through their store along with other customers anonymously via video? Or is it that they monitor you via some system that can link your specific movements to you as an individual. Is there a difference? Obviously many think so. In the first case you are just another consumer—one of many. In the second case you are you and the retailer knows who you are or at least knows your phone’s unique identifier, which means you are no longer part of the masses who shop in their store. You are an individual. True they have not linked the phone to you as person with a name and address—yet. Let’s look at it a different way. How many people would volunteer to wear a monitoring device while they shopped and went about their daily business? True, there would some, especially if they were being offered something in exchange (the basis for… Read more »
Brian Kelly
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I do not know about a right to privacy. I do know that customers define the nature of the relationship. Tracking is perceived as intrusive. And intrusive is perceived as creepy. And if creepy keeps customers out of a store/site, then it shouldn’t be done.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

While privacy is expected, following shopping trends are also understood. Unless there is a salesperson hovering over you while you browse: let’s not make too big a deal out of this.

David Zahn
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Steve Montgomery’s post seems to clearly position the issue in a way that makes sense to me—”what is in it for me, as a shopper?” If I (as shopper) don’t see or perceive value and have not explicitly opted in—then I have to wonder if I would be alone in seeing that as intrusive and inappropriate.

Steve Bowen
Guest
Steve Bowen
6 years 1 month ago

To me, it depends on the purpose. If it’s to passively research for the purpose of improving the shopping experience, this will actually benefit the shopper in the end. Have at it. If it’s to sell them something or if the research impedes their shopping, absolutely get their permission first.

Rather than regulating, the onus should be on us as ethical business professionals. All that said, with the hourly growth of technology I have few expectations of privacy in public places.

James Tenser
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

There is no natural right to privacy in the public domain. But protecting privacy may be the preferred practice for marketers and even governments.

Paula and Brian are on the right track with their comments about this. If I enter a place of business (in-store or online), I should reasonably expect that my behaviors are open for observation.

But I’m not obligated to like or accept this. I can vote with my feet, clicks and dollars by preferentially visiting or patronizing establishments that adhere to a less creepy standard.

So I would propose that marketers make a habit of disclosure that is not buried on page 18 of the terms of use. Reminders about shopper tracking should be automatic and opt-out mechanisms provided.

If consumer privacy can be bypassed in the name of marketing relevancy, then certainly the marketers themselves should have zero expectation of privacy about their methods and objectives.

Disclose. Disclose. Disclose. Let shoppers tell you what they will accept; then market to meet that expectation.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
6 years 1 month ago
Disclosure of policy is one thing and permission-based marketing is another. They are related and can be linked to the retailer’s benefit. While I agree with Paula Rosenblum and others who say “let it be” and let the customer wallet be the judge and jury on using technology in stores, I believe stores would benefit from posting a sign near the door that clearly states “we employ technology that follows your meanderings and the products you buy. If you have the GPS function of your smartphone turned on, you’re telling us it’s okay to be your silent companion in the store.” The second part of the message could be “the purpose of this technology is to benefit you at the end of the day. If you want to receive offers, promotions, and special deals related to your preferences, text “xxx” to “yyyy” and you’ll opt-in to this program.” I believe the disclosure of using tracking technology is good policy and a customer-friendly one to boot. Giving the customer the chance to opt-in removes any remaining… Read more »
Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

This is one of those ‘damned if your do and damned if you don’t’ situations. Today’s consumer wants you to give them what they want, when they want and how they want…without being marketed to or coerced.

Hmmm? Retailers are supposed to do this how? Well the smart ones figure out how to collect customer behavior, analyze it and give back what the customer wants. Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not a proponent of the creepy stuff and retailers must be very careful when determining the creepy factor but, all that said, I see no problem in non-intrusive tracking.

Tom Cook
Guest
Tom Cook
6 years 1 month ago

Every time one of these privacy things comes up, I have the same thought: people’s legitimate desire for privacy and fear of invasion of privacy have been (intentionally, in my opinion) misdirected. If my local grocery store or other retailer has a data-collection set up that eventually allows them to know more about me than my wife or even I myself do, what are they going to do with that data? Target me with personalized ads for stuff they figure I might like? Stock more, better and cheaper products that I and those like me are statistically more inclined to buy? The worst they can do is go a bit overboard in trying to SERVE ME BETTER, and as a grown up, I am not at the mercy of clever advertising or product placement and unable to control my basest desires when faced with such.

The thing that scares me is the hypocrisy of a member of the government chastising a retail company about unwanted surveillance.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Consumers, as a group, freely give away any privacy protection each time they sign up for a loyalty program, basically. And, seriously, if the CPG & retail industries would start doing some effective communications, those industries could show that information collection has no sinister purpose. Data is collected in order to have what the consumer wants to buy in stock at the time the consumer wants to buy it. What’s so scary about that?

We REALLY need to get over ourselves.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

“Sen. Al Franken”….wow. Anyway, back on topic, I think people have a fundamental right to feel that they are being left alone; that is to say, tracking beomes objectionable if it is such that the trackee beomes aware of it. It’s up to marketers to be clever enough so that doesn’t happen.

Warren Thayer
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Thank you, Ralph Jacobson.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
6 years 1 month ago
So my wife was shocked to find that Google Street View not only has detailed panoramic views of our home and environs, but has the satellite view showing even more topographical information. Scott McNealy was right, and it is fine for a politician to pander to our natural paranoia, but this ship left the harbor LONG ago. When you are in “public,” anyplace the public has a right to see, you have NO, zero, right to keep people from casually noticing anything and everything so exposed. And if they have a right to casually notice, there is no particular reason they can’t carefully notice, aka “NOTE”-ice, that is make a record of what they are seeing. With the growing volume of big, BIG data, and stirring more metric tools, like Google Glass, into the pot, we are well past the point of “no privacy” that Scott McNealy pointed out a decade ago. What we are on, is the early waves of public recognition. Although, here or there you hear shrieks of outrage, mostly the reaction… Read more »
Dave Wendland
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I’ve often said that privacy is a very slippery slope. Remember the expression, “Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile”? It is my opinion that full-disclosure to shoppers and a time-honored, opt-in process is the best policy. A policy that will not send shoppers fleeing.

Kurt Seemar
Guest
Kurt Seemar
6 years 1 month ago

This one seems pretty straight forward to me, but reading the other poster’s comments, I guess not. When I am out in public or in a store I expect at times that I will be on camera, video and seen by others, and this is fine. I consider it an invasion of my privacy for someone or some organization to access my phone, pull off my WIFI address and then track my movements. Accessing my phone without my permission is intrusive.

Amy Kasza
Guest
Amy Kasza
6 years 1 month ago
Decades ago, the Supreme Court told us we have a fundamental right to privacy contained within the fourth amendment. That right was interpreted to travel “with” each individual, so to speak, such that regardless of where the person might be, he/she retains the right to privacy. Obviously with some qualifications and exceptions, particularly when we venture out into public. (If only those shoppers talking loudly on their cell phones while pawing through the dairy case were more concerned about the “privacy” of their conversation.) In the real world, we know we can’t legislate everything. We more or less operate by a social contract. Retailers are “bound” by that contract as much as any individual. And this is where I chime in with James Tenser. “I’m not obligated to like or accept [being under observation as a shopper]. I can vote with my feet, clicks and dollars…” The social contract between retailers and their patrons is a two-way street. One that marketers can pave with honorable intentions by disclosing their methods and letting shoppers decide what… Read more »
Alexander Rink
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

I think we need to distinguish between what we want, and what is realistic. Perhaps I am being overly pragmatic here, but I do not think that we can realistically expect privacy in any public venue, and a store strikes me as a public venue. Really, from CCTV to traffic cameras, we are being watched all the time—why would I expect that my in-store experience would be any different?

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