Written on Sunday, March 17, 2013 by Ralph Barker
“You already have zero privacy. Get over it!”
Scott McNealy, CEO Sun Microsystems
We talk about Big Brother all the time, but what’s Little Brother up to? Well, he watches you and me almost anytime we are out of our homes. With modern technology we are not really safe even within our homes or in our front yard. The drones listen. The drones watch.
Anyone who is conscious knows there is an avalanche of new regulations, laws, and administrative rules that steal away our liberty and privacy. There is more government intrusion than most folks would know about or even notice anymore. It appears that Americans have accepted the new norm that we all live in a glass house.
I was just reading my April issue of Shopsmart, a magazine published by Consumer Reports. The magazine helps consumers get the most from their purchases. It also offers insight into various things, like, in this case, our privacy. It exposed some facts that we probably overlook.
In the current issue, there is an article titled, “How Stores Are Spying On You.” Most of us are aware of the multitude of cameras in stores and malls. We might not be aware of all that these cameras and sensors can do for their respective merchants. You are not alone.
According to Shopsmart, when you are in range of a store camera, it will utilize “face recognition” software, like that used in Vegas casinos. Once your face is identified, your face, identity, and maybe your car tag will be filed and catalogued all without your knowledge or consent. Obviously, smaller proprietorships won’t have this technology, but the big boys do.
Hold on. It gets creepier. When you stop and look at products on a shelf, there are gadgets known as “Gaze Trackers,” that record how long you look at various products.
Here’s another tidbit. You know those mannequins that are placed throughout many stores? Many are actually much more than mannequins. They are monitoring devices. They are equipped with photo eyes that can record a shopper’s specifics such as sex, age, skin color, and even facial expressions. “Smile, you are on Candid Camera!” Bet you didn’t know that.
One major problem, aside from our loss of privacy, with all this is that any of these systems could be hacked. There is a bundle of information in these systems that most of us would not want exposed to unauthorized people, especially Big Brother. Also, the more the merchants know the more we will be bombarded with advertisements.
Another advantage for merchants is they can watch for those folks who love to come into a store and slip and fall for the purpose of filing lawsuits. It’s a career for some, a lucrative one. This new technology might slow these folks down some and that would be good for all of us. The systems can also help nab shoplifters.
There’s still more. Our cell phones can be used as little spies that monitor our buying habits. They can already track our movements.
Did you know that when you enter many shopping centers or stores that your cell signal is monitored to record your movements. When there is a lot of activity detected in a particular area, merchants can post signs or assign people to entice shoppers with sales and specials.
It may be wise to change your phones settings so that it will not automatically join wi-fi networks. If your phone is set to automatically join, once you are in range of certain merchants or malls they will grab your signal and automatically join you to their network. This is without your knowledge or permission. Then they got you. Little Brother will be right there shopping with you.
Here’s one last piece of news that should give you the willies (nervousness, jitters, or fright). When you stop and look at a video in a store it may be looking right back too. Again, facial recognition software may be assembling a profile on you.
Is the news all bad? No, there are some benefits that will help merchants and consumers equally. First, these monitoring systems can be used to adjust manning at checkout counters to reduce the time in line for customers during peak times. If you ever shop at Walmart this would be a welcomed development.
The FTC is already involved in some complaints about these invasions of privacy and we may see some protections for us released in the near future. In the mean time, we all need to be more aware of who is watching us and why. Behave yourself out there.