Big retailers are tracking your phone's Wi-Fi signal

They're using a service that follows shoppers to figure out their buying patterns.

By Jason Notte May 10, 2013 9:16AM
Young woman clothes shopping (© Image Source/Getty Images)Updated May 12, 10:25 pm ET

OK, stores, here's the deal: If you really want consumers to support sales taxes for online merchants and stop using you as glorified showrooms, maybe you should stop using their smartphones' Wi-Fi signals to track their every step.

Just a suggestion.

Without their knowledge, the 40% to 70% of all shoppers who have stepped into Nordstrom (JWN) and other outlets with their smartphones on have been tracked by a company called Euclid Analytics through their phones' Wi-Fi requests. Euclid then uses that data to determine specific departments a shopper visits and how long a shopper spends in each department.

Nordstrom told a CBS (CBS) affiliate in Dallas that such information gives it "a better sense of customer foot traffic," but it has since announced it is ceasing its use of Euclid's tracking system. The New York Times speculates that retailers could use that data to shift high-end and downmarket items around their stores based on who walks by them. A Home Depot (HD) spokesman said that while that retailer once tested Euclid's tracking product a handful of its stores, it no longer uses it.

Shoppers looking to go untracked have to turn off their Wi-Fi or turn off their phones completely. If those consumers want to opt out, they have to go to a Euclid site -- whose existence they may not be aware of -- and tell Euclid they want out of the service they weren't asked to participate in.

The good news is that, once users opt out, their information is wiped from Euclid's database along with all of their phones' records. The bad news is users not only have to dig around for their phone's "MAC address," the code that identifies their device to a network, but they have to provide that code to Euclid to get scrubbed from its files.

Although Euclid is tracking 50 million devices in 4,000 locations, it assures shoppers that it doesn't cull data about "who you are, whom you call or the websites you visit." Shoppers' anonymous data is bundled with data from other individuals, resulting in an aggregate report of anonymous information.

Still, if customers want to be tracked and have their spending habits used for marketing purposes, they can just shop online.

More on moneyNOW

May 10, 2013 4:24PM

just wait soon it will be all minority report the billbord will talk to you


"hello annanake . how was your trip to cancoon we have your favorite color of shirt in asle 9 on sale how is little suzy 's new bike working out ? need any socks? its been 3 months since you last purchase you should get some fresh ones will you be dining with us tonight or is karen off work early tonight ?


i was hoping the future would be more star trek non use of money and what not but philip k dick tech seems to be winning and they said he was paranoid dosent mean they were not out to get him and us though. and were the hell is my lightsaber?????????????????????

May 10, 2013 11:11AM
What this imply is that the stores already know a lot of information about you when tracking you. "could use that data to shift high-end and downmarket items around their stores based on who walks by them". So I guess they already know your age, sex and income in order to make these kind of choices. They probably bought the information from Facebook or Google.
May 10, 2013 3:57PM

There is an app which turns your wi fi off when you move away from your wi fi hot spot then back on when you return. This saves your battery and ensures no one is tracking you.

May 10, 2013 2:04PM
**** them. I won't shop there any more. My phone needs to stay on for family reasons. So I shop elsewhere. Home Depot- kiss my ****!
May 10, 2013 1:32PM
Better yet,  Eliminate all third parties from putting unwanted software on your computer or phone. Gohostery and other programs blocks all spyware including the government run sites.  Interesting that most spyware comes from news organizations who complain about snooping with the biggest whiner (FOX) being the biggest snitch.
May 11, 2013 8:40AM

This article is misleading;


Every WiFi device emits an identifier called a MAC address.  This address is part of the protocol by which a device discovers and connects to a WiFi access point. 


Your MAC address can be "seen" by any Wireless access point in any office, store or public location anywhere you go - its just how it works.  Its also not limited just to your phone.  Your Kindle, Tablet, Laptop and any other wireless enabled device works exactly the same way.


However, there is ABSOLUTELY NO personally identifiable information in a MAC address and NO correlation between your MAC address and your identity.  This technique is used by retailers to better lay out their stores in the hope of providing better customer experiences for the consumer - that's what retailing is all about!!


There are hi-tech ways to link a MAC address to a phone number using illegal methods, however no major retailer in the US would stoop to such measures and if they did. they would face unbelievable consequences from the FCC.


May 11, 2013 7:10AM
It isn't going to get them customers and you are correct, it may piss off many of them. As for your reference to glorified showrooms... correct again! While the Money Sector article writers tell us that this retailer or that retailer did something with Wall Street expectations, we know that the kind-a cute shirt on the third rack nearest the Food Court door-- has been there and mainly untouched for years now.
May 11, 2013 10:21AM
When you walk into a store a camera identifies you. You are followed threw the store. When you check out your purchases are recorded. Big brother is watching you.
May 10, 2013 9:02PM
I won't be going to Nordstrom or Home Depot anymore. Not that I think this information would hurt me in any way, it just angers the heck out of me that they do it without letting you know. I turned wi fi connection off awhile ago when I found out people could cull your info that way. Technology - the scary frontier.
Sep 20, 2013 8:56AM
NO because before I enter a store I put my phone on airplane mode (turns WiFi off among other things).
May 10, 2013 6:38PM
Who uses Wi-Fi anymore...that's so 2011. I only use a secure 4G conection, even at home!!!
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