Key steps to ensure customer privacy

Juha Mattsson

Think of a store - like a clothing store for example.

The store wants to give you, the customer, the best possible shopping experience: easily finding and purchasing the clothes that fit your style; avoiding excess queuing and waiting for service; awkward store layouts, or an overload of irrelevant marketing messages.

Walkbase helps stores to get better at providing all those things to you.

We install our small WiFi and Bluetooth boxes inside the stores, which give retailers analytical information about how shoppers act. This information helps store managers to create the best shopping experiences, so customers leave satisfied, and come back again regularly.

So are there any security or privacy issues about using this in-store technology?

No, as long as all data is handled securely, and no personal identifying information is stored or used in ways that people are unaware of.

Although each country has different privacy legislation, the four general rules-of-thumb are:

  1. Store visitors should be sufficiently informed about passive people-counting systems, such as surveillance cameras or WiFi-based counting;
  2. It should not be possible to make personal identifications based on this type of data counting
  3. The possibility to opt-out should be offered at all instances, for example: “don’t include my device in any systems or services”;
  4. All services which do use personal information, like personalised offers to smartphones, should have opt-ins: an explicit permission from all customers covered by them.

In Walkbase’s solution, only basic WiFi counting is passive. For everything else we obtain opt-ins - customers subscribe to shopping-enhancing services that make use of location data.

The most common ways to opt-in to a location aware in-store service are:

  1. Subscribing to a loyalty programme;
  2. Installing a smartphone app;
  3. Logging onto a free WiFi network offered by the store.

As for our passive WiFi people counting solution, we always ensure no personal identification information is stored. This includes devices’ MAC addresses (just like vehicle identification numbers on cars), which are scrambled in such ways that it is impossible to backtrace them to a specific device. In fact, for WiFi counting it is not even possible to get any information that would be traceable to a specific person – unlike video based systems that are very common in stores these days.

We also encourage all stores and public spaces to use visible signage, informing visitors about WiFi-based people counting – just like we are used to seeing when surveillance cameras are deployed.

We also have an opt-out service both on our own website and also through the PrivacySIG organization which we are a member of. The purpose of PrivacySIG is to maintain a code of conduct that promotes consumer privacy for the next generation of retail analytics. Walkbase is one of the founders of PrivacySIG.

Finally, all our data is stored and processing takes currently place at dedicated, secure servers in Finland and Germany. Both countries are generally regarded high in terms of data security and integrity.

All in all, Walkbase’s development has always been based on maintaining very strict privacy standards at the core of the product - ensuring improved, enhanced and secure shopping experiences.

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Walkbase provides a retail analytics solution for improving the impact of marketing on physical stores and personalising in-store shopping experience.