Short Pump to track shoppers by cell phone

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – If you're planning on doing your holiday shopping at Short Pump Town Center, you might consider turning off your cell phone. Does that sound like odd advice? From Black Friday through New Year's Day, the mall will use your phone to track your movements.

Short Pump will be using signals from every shopper's cell phone to track where he or she goes in the mall. The company said the technology is for research purposes. The Town Center is one of only two shopping centers in the entire country using it.

"Attention shoppers: we now know where you're going in Short Pump Town Center. In fact, we'll be tracking your movement from store to store through your cell phone." For many people NBC12 talked to, that sounds like a creepy announcement from a mall.

"I would be disturbed by that," explained Cherian Abraham.

"I just don't think it's any of their business," added Julie Ross.

There are antennas throughout the mall that capture the unique ID number for each phone.  It's sort of like an IP address for a computer and they track its movement throughout the stores.

A vice president of the management company for Short Pump said, "We won't be looking at singular shoppers. The system monitors patterns of movement."

Things like how many shoppers are going from the Gap to Nordstrom or are there any less popular spots in the mall. That revelation made at least one customer less leery.

"If that information is going to use in interest of businesses, what people like, what people don't like, maybe it's ok," said Tatiana Ozrerski.

But the ACLU of Virginia believes there are privacy concerns.

"This is one of those issues where the laws haven't caught up with technology," explained Kent Willis. "There should be laws that prevent this and there may be in the near future if enough people complain."

Short Pump will be putting up signs to notify customers. The only way shoppers can opt out is by turning off their cell phones. Some people on the NBC12 Facebook page were concerned they'd also have to take out the battery in order to avoid tracking. We've learned simply turning it off will work.

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