An Officeworks customer has complained about a sign seen outside a Sydney store, which advised customers of the retailer’s trial of a “mobile phone location monitoring” program.
The notice said the retailer, located in the CBD, would collect the data to “optimize” the store and the customer experience.
“This is part of our ongoing efforts to optimize service and deliver the best in-store experience for our customers,” the sign read.
“No personal or identifying information will be collected as part of this trial.”
Customers were informed that if they wanted to opt out of the monitoring, they would need to turn off their Wi-Fi or turn their phone onto flight mode while in the store.
A photo of the message was posted to Reddit by user Equivalent-Ad7207, along with the caption: “What’s Hunter Street Officeworks think their (sic) playing at?”
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Other users also seemed to be less than impressed, with one person claiming Officeworks could “improve customer experience” by not tracking people’s locations when they are in the store.
Other comments claimed that several stores and shopping centers were already using the technology, though most don’t inform customers in this manner.
“It’s gonna suck not being able to go into most large chain stores or shopping centres,” one Reddit user wrote.
“They have all been doing this for ages. This is just the first time I have seen a sign informing the customer.”
Another person agreed that this type of tracking has been in place for a while, but noted it was “still gross”.
“This stuff has been going on for years on a larger scale with Bluetooth beacons linked to point of sales and such,” they said.
“When you go to a shopping center they (advertisers/shopping center management) know what shops and areas you shop or linger at.
“Started around the same time phone updates made it harder to permanently turn off Bluetooth. Still gross though.”
News.com.au has requested comment from Officeworks on how the retailer uses this data.
Sneaky WiFi tracing technique used by companies
Last month, cyber security engineer Rafig Jabrayilov warned that businesses were using intelligent software capable of tracking the location of each customer’s phone.
The cyber expert said the software was so precise it could determine exactly how long each customer spent looking at certain products on certain shelves.
“For any person trying to keep their personal information private, it’s not fair. Every single person has a right to keep his or her privacy,” Mr Jabrayilov said.
“Buying something from a store shouldn’t mean you have to share your personal details.”
Companies can track the physical location of their customers through easily accessible information distributed via their smartphones.
Apple and Android devices emit radio waves at a diameter of between 10 and 20 meters which broadcasts its MAC (media access control) address – a 12 digit code that is unique to and identifies each device.
Stores, like Nordstrom in the United States – the focus of a bombshell New York Times article – can set up sensors in physical stores that return exact information on consumer behaviour.
Mr Jabrayilov said big Australian retailers were also involved with tracking consumer devices through their camera faces, however he was not in a position to pass on outlet names.
“They’re basically trying to identify your gender, what store you’re staying in more, how many people pass and enter stores, and which section they stay in more,” Mr Jabrayilov said.
Bunnings and Kmart under investigation
Earlier this month it was revealed that Australia’s privacy watchdog was investigating Bunnings’ and Kmart’s use of facial recognition technology.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) confirmed it had opened a probe into the technology, focusing on how the retail giants handle customers’ personal information.
The investigations followed a report from consumer advocacy group Choice about the retailers’ use of the facial recognition technology.
Choice analyzed the privacy policies of 25 major retailers and found The Good Guys, Kmart and Bunnings were recording their customers’ biometric data.
Facial recognition uses video cameras to analyze images and capture each person’s unique facial features, known as a faceprint.
But Choice research found 76 per cent of Australians weren’t aware retailers were doing this – despite having a sign up at the front of stores.
Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has also begun preliminary inquiries with Good Guys Discount Warehouses (Australia) after reports the company had paused its use of facial recognition technology.
Bunnings chief operating officer Simon McDowell said he was aware of the OAIC investigations into the use of facial recognition technology in its stores and would co-operate with them.
“As we’ve previously explained, this technology is used solely to help keep teams and customers safe and prevent unlawful activity in our stores and we have strict controls around its use,” he said.
Following the release of the Choice research, Australians shared anger, branding the use of the advanced cameras and collecting personal data as “creepy” and “disgusting”.
Some stated they would stop shopping at the stores as a result.
– With NCA NewsWire