Digital Spying, Digital Shopping: The Debate Over WiFi and Invasions of Retail Privacy


The Debate Over WiFi and Invasions of Retail PrivacyThe Internet has nearly evolved into a basic life necessity equivalent to water, food, and shelter.

A project for The George Washington University reports that one in five households in the U.S., or 20% of Americans, had access to the Internet about a year ago in October 2012.

Americans aren’t just logging on at home or at the office either. We’re connected through personal mobile devices anywhere, anytime. The Internet enhances human communication, but also compromises privacy.

Store Surveillance: Beyond Theft Protection

Retailers leverage the Internet and customers’ reliance of a WiFi connection to learn more about customer habits and information. Once a customer has entered a store and uses its WiFi connection, the customer becomes an open book. Stores can use data they retrieve from your phone and tailor a shopping experience.

Non-Encrypted Device & Corporate Eavesdropping

The SSD Project notes that stores can intercept your data and peek at your tablet or smartphone’s basic information using “packet-sniffing software.” Stores inspect your device’s model number and its name — all in pursuit of information about your store movement and buying potential.

Nordstrom depended on the analytics service Euclid to retrieve shopper’s in-store data to boost sales, according to Forbes . When customers enter a store using analytics and tracking measures, they try to connect to the store’s WiFi. Then the software picks up the customer’s basic device information, what departments they visit, and where they spend the most time.

Could soliciting customer information through WiFi connections and mobile devices actually be labeled as digital spying — an unethical invasion of privacy?

WiFi Backlash

Forbes followed up and reported that Nordstrom concluded its study and ended its agreement with Euclid as of May 2013. The store’s representative reported that the project had always been intended to be a temporary test. The company felt that eight months had been long enough accomplish their goals. Forbes’ readers comment that the store might not have given the whole story — a natural reaction to a covert invasion of privacy.

A Megabyte of Prevention is Worth a Terabyte of Mistrust

Among the hype of customer analysis measures, you can safeguard against any tracking and feel assured that your shopping habits aren’t being invaded upon. The SSD Project first recommends that you should install WiFi Protected Access software for your personal Internet and WiFi access. Whether you need high-speed Internet from a fiber-optic network or your WiFi from, secure information by encrypting data, restricting access, and using a firewall. Take your fully encrypted home wireless plan with you on-the-go, along with your WPA.

Eliminate the possibility that someone is spying on you or trying to gather consumer secrets to boost their bottom line.


Get Private Wifi   Protect your personal information.
Get DataCompress   Cut your mobile data usage.

Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.