The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power

Privacy and Security, Search and Advertising, Internet and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot


Joseph Turow


Yale University Press: New Haven, Connecticut, 2017


Increasingly, retailers use technologies such as smartphone apps to track and profile shoppers are they shop in retail stores. Retailers profile consumers and treat some differently than others. Most consumers are unaware of retailers’ tracking and profiling.

Policy Relevance

Regulators should require corporations to ask consumers’ permission to use their data. We should consider whether retail profiling is consistent with our values.

Main Points

  • Retail stores will use technology such as smartphone apps, Fitbits, and facial recognition technology to track and profile consumers as they move through the aisles.
    • Brick-and-mortar stores must compete with online shopping.
    • Loyalty rewards are offered as “bait” to encourage consumers to share data.
  • Stores will use the data they collect to offer consumers coupons, personalized service, and special deals, but data collection and profiling can also harm consumers.
    • Some stores sell data to other firms.
    • Profiles are used to tailor advertising messages, health advice, or insurance offerings to specific consumers.
    • Stores will discriminate, offering some consumers better prices than others.
  • Most consumers are aware that tracking occurs, but do not understand the details.
    • Most consumers wrongly believe that regulators prevent stores from charging different prices to different consumers at the same time.
    • Once consumers are told how retailers collect information, they prefer not to be shown personalized ads and discounts based on this information.
  • Companies should not be permitted to use consumer data unless the consumer “opts in,” giving explicit consent to the collection and use of the data.
  • The Federal Trade Commission should require firms to be open about their use of consumer data, and “name and shame” firms are not sufficiently transparent.
  • Beginning in middle school, educators should teach the public about digital media and marketing as a part of a basic education.


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