Eavesdropping Whilst You’re Shopping: Balancing Personalisation and Privacy in Connected Retail Spaces

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Description: Physical retailers, who once led the way in tracking with loyalty cards and ‘reverse appends’, now lag begin online competitors. Yet we might be seeing these tables turn, as many increasingly deploy technologies ranging from simple sensors to advanced emotion detection systems, even enabling them to tailor prices and shopping experiences on a per-customer basis. Here, we examine these in-store tracking technologies in the retail context, and evaluate them from both technical and regulatory standpoints. We first introduce the relevant technologies in context, before considering privacy impacts, the current remedies individuals might seek through technology and the law, and those remedies’ limitations. To illustrate challenging tensions in this space we consider the feasibility of technical and legal approaches to both a) the recent ‘Go’ store concept from Amazon which requires fine-grained, multi-modal track- ing to function as a shop; and b) current challenges in opting in or out of increasingly pervasive passive Wi-Fi tracking. The ‘Go’ store presents significant challenges with its legality in Europe significantly unclear and unilateral, technical measures to avoid biometric tracking likely ineffective. In the case of MAC addresses, we see a difficult-to-reconcile clash between privacy-as-confidentiality and privacy-as-control, and suggest a technical framework which might help balance the two. Sig- nificant challenges exist when seeking to balance personalisation with privacy, and researchers must work together, including across the boundaries of preferred privacy definitions, to come up with solutions that draw on both technology and the legal frameworks to provide effective and proportionate protection. Retailers, simultaneously, must ensure that their track- ing is not just legal, but worthy of the trust of concerned data subjects.

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