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How retail stores are tracking you: CHOICE

Unregulated surveillance technologies reinforce urgent need for Privacy Act reform.

Last updated: 10 May 2023

Consumer group CHOICE has revealed how retailers are using new technologies to track and record customers in their stores, often without their knowledge. 

"There are a number of retail technologies now being used to monitor customers when they shop in person, from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi tracking to more sophisticated facial analysis software. Worryingly, people are often completely unaware this kind of tech is being used," says CHOICE consumer data advocate, Kate Bower. 

"CHOICE has significant concerns about the highly personal data this kind of technology is collecting, how it's being used, and the lack of regulation surrounding it," says Bower.

"These new retail technologies clearly illustrate the urgent need for privacy law reform to protect people's personal data. When the Privacy Act was first developed in the 1980s, many of these tracking technologies didn't even exist, meaning much of the law is completely outdated," says Bower. 

Some of the most concerning retail technology trends include: 

Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi tracking

Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi trackers are becoming increasingly common as a way of monitoring people's movements in shops and shopping centres.

"If you have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled on your phone, many retailers can use it to track your movements. They may even be able to link it to other information, such as transactions you've made in store," says Bower. 

Surveillance and facial analysis

"There are many ways customers may be surveilled in a retail space without their knowledge," says Bower.

"Some digital billboards, for example, have a hidden camera embedded within them. The camera looks at your face, then an algorithm estimates your age, gender and a few other characteristics before displaying an advertisement 'suited' for you," says Bower. 

Loyalty programs

"While loyalty programs may seem beneficial to consumers, these programs actually create something of a data goldmine and enable retailers to collect valuable and highly specific data about their customers," says Bower. 

"Personal data collected through loyalty schemes can be used for manipulative marketing practices and personalised pricing. Supermarket rewards programs can share data and insights with their insurance businesses, while others could be sharing your personal information with data brokers," says Bower. 

CHOICE is continuing to call for urgent reform to the Privacy Act to safeguard people's data in an increasingly technological age. 

"We know consumers are increasingly concerned about privacy and data collection, and the evidence has shown they have every right to be. We need new and amended protections under the Privacy Act to ensure people's data is secure and not at risk of exploitation," says Bower. 

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