If you’ve got wi-fi enabled on your phone, your whereabouts are a marketer’s goldmine, reports Elizabeth Dwoskin in The Wall Street Journal (1/14/14). "Locations have meanings," says Eloise Gratton a privacy lawyer. Turnstyle Solutions is banking on that by tracking "signals emitted from wi-fi-enabled” phones across "about 200 businesses within a 0.7 mile radius in downtown Toronto to track shoppers as they move in the city." This is made possible by installing sensors at each business, and enables Turnstyle to "create portraits of 2 million people’s habits."
As a result, Fan Zhang, owner of a local Asian restaurant, "knows that 250" of his customers "went to the gym" in a given month. So, he printed up "workout tank tops with his restaurant logo on them." The information is aggregated, protecting customer names – unless they log into Turnstyle’s free wi-fi on Facebook, in which case "names, ages, genders and social media profiles" may be collected. Turnstyle then uses the information, combined with "foot-traffic data … to come up with dozens of lifestyle categories, including yoga-goers, people who like theater, and hipsters."
"We know there is more value to be extracted from the data," says Turnstyle founder Chris Gilpin, who says his plan is to "turn on the tap slowly – in a way that doesn’t offend customers." Collecting and sharing such data without customer knowledge or consent currently is legal in both the Canada and America, although US Senator Al Franken of Minnesota has a bill pending to change this (link). Meanwhile, both Apple and Google "know the location of every customer’s wi-fi-enabled phone." Neither company offers comments.