Retailers Are Watching Us Shop—Should We Care?

We keep hearing that privacy doesn’t exist anymore, and that we should no longer even expect it. But while most of can understand the need for monitoring the public in some situations, do any of us really want retailers following our movements when we’re in their stores?

It’s already happening. The cosmetic chain Sephora uses Bluetooth to connect to customers’ smartphones and track what they look at. Once that data is gathered, promotions geared to the shoppers’ preferences are sent to their smartphones. Other technology tracks shoppers if they use in-store Wi-Fi, which enables the business to capture shoppers’ data and private information. While Target, Walmart, and Lowe’s have not yet adopted facial-recognition systems that can, among other functions, identify former shoplifters in its stores, these retailers are considering such Big Brother intrusions.

Stores claim technologies that track shopping behaviors help them stay competitive with online retailers. They argue such tracking is being explored to enhance shoppers’ experience. However, privacy advocates claim the risks of abuse from tracking customers physically are too dangerous, and that if allowed to continue, could result in massive data collection that inevitably would be stored and shared. This sharing could theoretically lead to unknowing shoppers being blacklisted, misidentified, or otherwise labeled. If you were purchasing a lot of liquor for a large party, for example, that information could be stored and retrieved by a potential employer who may consider that purchase in a negative light.

Congress is currently considering legislation to protect privacy online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Should lawmakers stop businesses from using our faces and track our every step without permission?


  1. If retailers use facial recognition tracking in stores, should customers be informed or allowed to opt out?
  2. Should stores be allowed to use facial recognition technology to monitor employees as a way to cut down on theft or other issues?
  3. How would you feel about a store that used sensors in shopping carts that could track your eye movements?



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