Is Big Brother watching you while you shop? Not at Nordstom — at least, not anymore. The retailer announced this month that store sensors would no longer track data from customer smartphones.

The cancellation of Nordstrom’s policy came on the heels of a CBS news story informing customers that the mega-chain had been using wireless signals to monitor their movements and habits in the store.

The tracking system detected iPhones, Android phones and other smartphones whenever the mobile device attempted to connect to WiFi networks in Nordstrom stores.

Although the data was ostensibly being collected to measure foot traffic in different areas of the stores, customers worried that their personal information was at risk. Nordstrom responded to their privacy concerns and complaints by cancelling the program.


Shoppers Send Signal to Stop WiFi Tracking

The experiment to track shoppers through different departments, called Euclid, began in September 2012. The idea was to pick up signals from smart phones which were attempting to use the in-store wireless internet.

Some consumers may have been actively attempting to access the store’s WiFi, while other phones were attempting to connect automatically from inside the user’s purse or pocket. Once these devices were pinpointed, Nordstrom analysts were able to track their locations and determine which parts of their stores were most populated at certain times of day.

Front of Nordstrom store

Nordstrom planned to use data gleaned from cell phone wifi to track customer foot traffic.

However, following negative public attention after a CBS news report revealed the tracking policy, Nordstrom spokesperson Tara Darrow says the company decided to discontinue these activities:

We’d been testing Euclid since September and have said all along this was a test for us. We had been discussing what made sense in terms of concluding the test; after 8 months we’d felt like we had learned a lot and determined that it was the right time to end it.

Hopefully for the superstore, the announcement hasn’t come too late for their core customer base, but some skeptical shoppers may not be so quick to forgive the privacy violation.


Cell Phone Privacy is an Important Issue for Today’s Consumer

After the CBS story, scores of Nordstrom customers caused the WiFi tracking to be shut down by letting their voice be heard.

From angry comments on the CBS Facebook page to numerous customer service calls, Nordstrom quickly caught on to the fact that no one wishes to have their information tapped without permission — even if it’s simply your location while you shop.

Man walking in clothing aisle of store

Customers say they’re OK with Nordstrom tracking their purchases, but not their physical location.

The Public anxiety over Nordstrom’s Euclid system indicates that consumers want to ensure that their privacy is safe and respected. In addition to the potential risk of identity theft, it’s troubling for some that a retailer would gather private data without customer consent.

After all, if the store doesn’t inform you that you’re being tracked, then what else may be shared without your permission?

Speak Up to Protect Your Personal Info

Thanks to hundreds of consumers who stepped up and complained about the wireless phone sensors, Nordstrom customers are now able to breathe easy knowing they’re safe from location tracking. By complaining through major news outlets and social media sites, shoppers were able to voice their dissatisfaction.

But many other business use similar tactics to map out and analyze their customer base, making it easier to advertise to you during your shopping experience.

So if you feel like a business is employing illegal or unethical practices to gather your personal information, use Scambook’s consumer complaint platform to get the ball rolling towards consumer justice!


See Also

Scam Alert: Cell Phone SIM Cards Hacked, May Put You at Risk for Identity Theft
Unsecured Cell Phones May Endanger American Soldiers, Pose National Security Risk
New York City Subways Add Free WiFi & Cell Phone Service

2 Responses

  1. James Arthur

    I think you’re misrepresenting the issue here… all parties stated that no “private data” is was being collected I don’t think its a reasonable consumer expectation that their phone ID which is necessary to connect to ANY network is private. Its just a number and the cell carriers have deep privacy protection around device MAC addresses and phone network ids.

    Malls have had door counters for decades. Any open WiFi network logs the phone ID (MAC or otherwise) that it connects to. And in fact many cell companies are forcing smart phones to connect to open WiFi when avail to move traffic off their network (like Sprint).

    Euclid – like many other WiFi based mapping services only reports aggregate anonymous data (IE there’s a min sample size to report to report on anything) and only the movement is reported). I believe the CBS report mentioned that. None of the WiFi providers know or get any data about who the handset belongs to. If you want to get granular – look at what high def security video can do (like detect gender and age).

    That said, retailers should – and most do – disclose security monitoring and other tracking (like WiFi)… One Nordstrom image from the CBS report looked pretty prominent in the front of the store.

    WiFi tracking is just another form of consumer intelligence that help retailers stock and staff better and provide high levels of customer service. Isn’t that what shoppers really want?

  2. Do Your Research

    “Its just a number and the cell carriers have deep privacy protection around device MAC addresses and phone network ids.”

    Well thanks for clearing that up for all of us – we were ready to believe that this was actually true:

    “None of the WiFi providers know or get any data about who the handset belongs to.”

    Well, that’s a relief. And we know the government isn’t going to ever demand – sorry, I mean “lawfully obtain” – such information from actual stores, right? Just that one time from Verizon – oh wait and Microsoft – and oh wait….


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