Apple Testing the Waters on Customer Tracking - The UpStream

Apple Testing the Waters on Customer Tracking

posted Saturday Dec 7, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Apple Testing the Waters on Customer Tracking

It has been two years since we discussed Foot Path's customer tracking service and the inevitable consumer fallout that occurred as a result. In those two years more smartphones have been sold and consumers have become even more weary of being tracked, both online and in reality. The move away from cookies on the Internet has been the biggest recent indicator.

With all of that market research available to them, Apple has decided to take the concept of tracking customers a step farther and, instead of simply anonymously watching a device as it travels through a store or mall, will be uniquely tracking iOS 7 devices as they travel through Apple stores and pushing messages to their devices.

Using their iBeacon system, they will, via low-power Bluetooth technology, determine your position in their retail store and, based on what display you might be interacting with, send your phone information about what you are looking at. For example, if you are using an iPhone 4S and have stopped in the iPhone 5s display area, the system will be able to alert you of deals on the phones, as well as your current upgrade eligibility.

Fortunately, according to Apple, there are checks involved to prevent tracking people who are not interested in participating. For example, you must have an iOS 7 device with Bluetooth 4.0, meaning the iPhone 4S and above, or the 3rd generation iPad or above, with the Apple Store app installed. When you enter the store, the app will ask your permission to track your location, then to send you notifications. Apple claims you must enable both for the system to work.

The only problem with that theory is that there is no system pairing involved in the system, meaning that there is no way to guarantee that Apple is not at least tracking your device throughout the store without permission. Of course, without the app and permissions there is no way to push notifications, but pinging the Bluetooth radio is not an impossible feat.

Apple is not the only organization in the process of implementing iBeacon: Major League Baseball and Macy's are both testing or implementing the technology in their facilities. iBeacon is also compatible with Android 4.3 and above devices with Bluetooth 4.0, meaning that having an Android device won't hide you from Apple's possibly prying eyes.

Are you willing to trade privacy for convenience? Let us know in the comments section.


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