Schumer targets store tracking of shoppers

Sen. Charles Schumer holds a news conference in Sen. Charles Schumer holds a news conference in front of American Apparel on 7th Avenue on Sunday in Manhattan. Schumer is calling for the Federal Trade Commission to require a mandatory "Opt-Out" so that consumers have the option to not be tracked by retailers, like American Apparel, through their cellphones. (July 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Sen. Charles Schumer on Sunday called on the Federal Trade Commission to allow shoppers to opt out of having their movements tracked by their cellphones while at retail stores.

"What we're saying very simply is that it is a bad idea to allow people to be tracked without their knowledge and permission," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference in Manhattan. "It's going too far."

Retailers including United Colors of Benetton, American Apparel, Swatch and Family Dollar can gain access to customers' movements through their unique cellphone identity and acquire information about them without their permission, according to Schumer's office.

Using that technology, retailers can track how customers navigate the store, what products they stop in front of and for how long. That information can be combined with data found online to create a detailed profile of each shopper, and then sold or stored, Schumer's office said.

Schumer, standing outside the American Apparel store at 345 Seventh Ave., in Manhattan, proposed that the FTC should require retailers to send an electronic notice to the phone they are about to start tracking and give consumers a choice to opt-out.

"A person's phone, an iPhone, is just that -- personal," he said. "It shouldn't be used as a James Bond tracking device."

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Schumer said he sent a letter to FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez Sunday asking that the agency investigate the tracking of consumers' cellphones, calling it an "unfair" and "deceptive" practice.

Schumer has addressed the issue before. In 2011, two shopping malls -- the Promenade Temecula in Southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va., -- stopped experimenting with the technology after he raised privacy concerns, Schumer said.

Many consumers don't realize they are being tracked and don't turn their phone off while shopping, which would prevent it from happening, Schumer said.

Jeanne Knotts, 48, of Plant City, Fla., was shopping at the American Apparel on Seventh Avenue Sunday during her vacation in New York City. She said she had no idea that retailers could track shoppers' behavior through their cellphones and thought Schumer's proposal was good.

"You don't know they're tracking you," she said. "That's bad to me."

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Another shopper, Natsha Gawa, who was vacationing from Canada, said Schumer's proposal didn't go far enough.

"I don't think people should be in a position where they have to opt out," she said. "Stores should ask you if you want to opt in."

American Apparel said in a statement that the company monitors only the number of people coming into the store and the number of purchases through its RetailNext system.

"We do not and will not ever collect any personal data through the system or through the Wi-Fi on our shopper's phones. We would never violate our customer's trust in that way, and currently the technology we employ is purely intended to increase the efficiency of our Made in USA, fair-wage manufacturing and retail business."

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