Voluntary code would let shoppers opt out of tracking

As concerns grow regarding the capabilities and potential uses, or misuses, of positioning technologies, a U.S. lawmaker has rolled out a voluntary code of conduct designed to ensure consumers can opt-out of having retailers track their movements via their cell phones.

"This agreement shows that technology companies, retailers, and consumer advocates can work together in the best interest of the consumer," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The code is supported by the Future of Privacy Forum and location analytics companies Euclid, iInside (a WirelessWERX company), Mexia Interactive, SOLOMO, Radius Networks, Brickstream and Turnstyle Solutions. These technology companies use mobile device Wi-Fi or Bluetooth MAC addresses to develop aggregate reports for retailers.

The code of conduct requires in-store posted signs to alert shoppers that tracking technology is being used and provide instructions regarding a central opt-out site where customers can decline to have their non-personal data collected. Perhaps most important, companies must get opt-in consent when personal information is collected or when a consumer will be contacted.

In addition, the code requires companies that collect data through this wireless technology to anonymize the data collected, restrict how the information is used and shared, and limit how long it may be retained.

"Proximity and location technology is evolving rapidly, and we want to make sure it's deployed in an open, responsible and trustworthy manner. The retail location analytics code of conduct is a solid step in the right direction," said Marc Wallace, co-founder and CEO of Radius Networks.

However, there are legitimate questions regarding how effective such a voluntary code can be, particularly when only seven companies have signed onto it. Further, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that has been accused of being a front for telecommunications and related corporate interests. It was founded in 2008 and is reportedly funded by AT&T (NYSE:T).

For more:
- see this Schumer release
- see The Verge article

Related articles:
Senator Franken targets indoor-positioning firm Euclid's privacy practices
London recycling bins no longer tracking smartphones
Recycling bins using Wi-Fi to track smartphones

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