UK privacy watchdog warns consumers that shops can track them

The UK's privacy watchdog has warned that facial recognition software and handset identifiers broadcasted via Wi-Fi are allowing UK retailers to track and target customers through their smartphones.

“This technology, which is starting to be rolled out in shops, allows retailers to use the customer journey to build up a picture as to how people typically use the store. It uses the MAC address of a smartphone which can, in many cases, be linked to a specific individual,” says Simon Rice, group manager for technology at the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The technology has also been implemented in airports, transport hubs and using city-wide Wi-Fi networks.

The ICO warns that smart CCTV systems and facial recognition cameras are capable of identifying individuals, and similar technology is used on the internet to target adverts at uses based on their behaviour instead of their faces.

Rice stated, “Even if the identification of individuals is not the intended purpose, the implications of intelligent video analytics for privacy, data protection, and other human rights are still significant.”

The ICO is in the process of creating guidelines on the use of the technology that will involve advising shoppers that they are being tracked and that facial recognition systems are being used in the area.