Airports, malls, large stores and even London litter bins have been caught tracking people via the Wi-Fi signals broadcast by their smartphones, and presumably national spying agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ are doing it too. The obvious solution is to turn Wi-Fi off when you leave your home or office. However, now there's a website, smartstoreprivacy.org, that could help, though so far it's US-only.
The beta website has been set up by the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), a Washington, DC-based think-tank, and The Wireless Registry, which describes itself as the first global registry of wireless names and identifiers. Smartphone users must go to their Smart Store Privacy website and register their smartphone's MAC address to opt out of tracking.
Of course, it only works with companies and organisations that have signed up and agreed to follow the FPF’s new Mobile Location Analytics Code of Conduct. The FPF says this includes Aislelabs, Brickstream, Euclid, iInside, Measurence, Mexia Interactive, Path Intelligence, Radius Networks, ReadMe Systems, SOLOMO, and Turnstyle Solutions. These handle tracking for a lot of major retailers. However, as AdAge has pointed out, the list does not include Nomi, or Sensity Systems, which installed the light-related tracking sensors at Newark Airport.
Coverage does not extend to smaller stores -- and, presumably, other businesses -- that have their own tracking systems. These may include motion sensors, Bluetooth wireless tracking, and other approaches.
A year ago, the US Federal Trade Commission recommended that any company that tracked users via their smartphones should inform them about the data they are collecting, but it's not a legal requirement. The least that should be required by law is a notice similar to the ones that many companies post about their use of CCTV, and the FPF is working on "model signage".
Whether it will work is another matter. The privacy effort is similar to the Do Not Call Registry for US telephone marketing, and the UK's Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Although these bodies are pathetically toothless, they might reduce the number of unwanted calls. However, companies that want to abuse their efforts generally manage to find ways round the rules.