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US Malls Tracking Shoppers' Cell Phones This Holiday Season

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While Apple, Google, RIM, and Microsoft weathered a maelstrom of bad press over location tracking this year, two US malls will be openly tracking shoppers through the holiday season.

CNN Money reports that Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va will be monitoring shoppers' cell phone signals and noting where the foot traffic accumulates. Along with shopping location and time length, the monitoring system will also indicate retail crossover appeal. (Do Starbucks customers also frequent the Gap? Does visiting Best Buy diminish a customer's time inside Gamestop? How many RadioShack customers also linger outside the Victoria Secret dressing rooms?)

Although many would consider this an invasion of privacy, both malls stress that the signals are anonymous, and personal information -- like name and phone number -- isn't tracked. Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl -- the vice president of digital strategy for the managing company of both malls -- told CNN, "We won't be looking at singular shoppers." Adding, "The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to."

Still, having an invisible employee trail you throughout your visit is more than a little disconcerting.

Making matters even more unsettling, JCPenney and Home Depot are in talks with Path Intelligence -- the British manufacturer which created the technology -- to implement a tracking system in their retail locations. On the other hand, analysts have said that people counters, security cameras, and even heat maps have been tracking customer patterns for years.

All right. Looks like it's unlicensed street vendors from now on.

(See also: World's Largest Apple Store Won't Be Ready for Black Friday and Google Engineer Calls Google+ a Complete Failure)

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