Everybody knows that online retailers like Amazon track customer behavior on their website down to every last click and then analyze it to improve their site. But when it comes to regular retail locations collecting detailed customer data by tracking their every move, people seem to be surprised, and sometimes even outraged…
It is somewhat ironic that we are used to being tracked online, but when customer tracking - sometimes even based on the very smartphones we carry in our pockets - hits the real world, privacy concerns abound. Interestingly, the same systems have been used for years to prevent theft, and nobody seems to have a problem with that. But once Big Data gets collected and is analyzed for more than just theft prevention and is utilized to analyze shopping behavior and improve store layouts, things get a bit murky on the privacy implications.
The NY Times has a nice article about this today, including a video that shows some of the systems in action. Very cool technology is being used from video surveillance to WiFi signal tracking, and I guess this is really just the tip of the iceberg.
It will also be interesting to see how the privacy implications around Google Glass play out in the next couple of months. If the government can track and record everybody and if business can track and record their customers, then why shouldn't ordinary people also be allowed to constantly record and analyze everything happening around them?
When George Orwell coined the phrase "Big Brother is watching you" in his Nineteen Eight-Four novel, the dystopian vision of a government watching our every moves seemed to be the epitome of an oppressive evil. Nowadays, privacy concerns have certainly evolved over the past decade to the point where video cameras on street corners are taken for granted in many democracies and I'm sure we'll see a continued evolution of our understanding of privacy in the years to come.