Businesses (and Airports) are Tracking You

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Businesses are tracking you. Airports are tracking you too. As you shop in your city or enjoy a preflight cocktail at the airport bar, tracking systems are watching you. They are able to do this by placing tracking sensors that use location data emitted by your cell phone when it has WiFi turned on.

In part, businesses do this in order to find out what their customers like and don’t like. For example, your location data is valuable to airport management because it helps them figure out where all the foot traffic is so they can eliminate passenger bottlenecks and add more staff if necessary.

And businesses also insist that this information allows them to give you special deals and targeted information.  Maybe your local gym can offer you special promotions on items customized to your tastes. Or maybe your connecting flight has been delayed, and so airports can give you up-to-the-minute updates as to when it will arrive via a cell phone app. Sounds pretty good, right?

But there are other reasons businesses and airports want to track you.

Why They Really Want To Track You

You might be surprised by how much information businesses can compile on you. Tracking sensors can monitor how many times you visit your gym, your school, a nightclub, or watch you as you go on an early morning jog. Based on this information, these companies can label you as an “early morning jogger” or “youth.”

Businesses and their technology partners who help them track consumers via their cell phones insist that this tracking is not personalized meaning they claim they can’t identify you directly from your cell phone location.

By using this tracking technology, advertisers can begin to build a profile on you and with the help of a little more information, it’s not that hard for them to personally identify you. For example, if you have WiFi enabled on your cell phone and use just happen to post on Twitter or connect to Facebook, your identity can be easily figured out.

Businesses want to track you via your mobile device because it lets them know where you go and how you and other customers are spending money. In short, you are being tracked because knowing your location helps businesses increase their bottomline.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this as long as you are aware, agree, and given a chance to opt out. But most businesses and airports do not let consumers know that their location is being tracked and recorded, and so few people are aware that this is happening.

Surely, this is illegal, you might think. But in the U.S., companies don’t need user consent before collecting and sharing personal information, which includes location information. And there’s nothing stopping these location trackers from tracking hospital visits, for example, and then selling this information to data brokers.

What to Do About It

If you don’t want to be tracked, the way to stop it is simple: either turn off your phone and disable WiFi. If you don’t want to turn off your wireless you can anonymize yourself by using a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi.

We are being tracked by companies far more than we think. And while location information may not seem to reveal a lot about us, the truth is that it can be used be used to identity what we are doing, where we go, and how we spend our money. And it can connect our online lives to our offline ones.

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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.