Short Pump Town Center drops plans to track cell-phone use

Short Pump Town Center announced today that it has suspended the use of a new technology that tracks customers’ movements by following their cell phone signals as they move from store to store.

The technology, called FootPath, has been used in Europe, but over Thanksgiving Short Pump Town Center and a California mall owned by the same company became the first businesses to employ it in the U.S.

Last week, the ACLU of Virginia expressed concerns about the use of the technology and suggested that customers should complain, refuse to shop at Short Pump Town Center, and ask state legislators to pass a law banning FootPath.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer also became involved in opposing FootPath by asking stores to track only customers who first give permission and by calling on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation.

“If you care about protecting your privacy, it’s best to keep your eye on the business community,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “New technologies give businesses more and more ability to trace your movements and buying habits, and nothing prevents them from sharing that information with the government if they want.  There is also no guarantee that the information collected through FootPath is completely safe from hackers.”

“Short Pump Town Center’s quick reversal indicates it is concerned about alienating customers through the use of this technology,” added Willis. “This was in all likelihood a business decision, but it really ought to have been a legal one. Unfortunately, there are no laws in Virginia to prevent this kind of tracking.”

“Privacy need not disappear altogether in the United States,” said Willis. “It is simply a matter of adding new laws each time a new technology is introduced, or better still, adding laws that anticipate new technologies. In this case, if enough people complain to their elected officials, a law preventing businesses from tracking cell phones without the owner’s permission should easily pass the General Assembly.”

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