Google and the NSA, among others, have taken a lot of heat for tracking Americans' activities. Ah, but they're not really able to track every step you take, every move you make, as the old song has it.
So, who can? Why, your cell phone carrier, of course, and it turns out they're doing just that.
Verizon has a new division called Precision Marketing Insights that will initially help sports clubs and venues learn more about their fans by tracking their activities before and after the game.
Do all those ringside ads and promotions on the scoreboards really cause fans to stop off at Pizza King on the way home? Do NASCAR fans stop off at a Sunoco station after a day at the races?
The NBA Phoenix Suns tested the service last season, Ad Age reports today, and the Portland Trail Blazers are said to be thinking about it.
The technology behind this is pretty simple, once you have a massive cellular network in place. As Colson Hillier, VP of Verizon Precision Market Insights, explained it to Ad Age, tracking customers is really just "a byproduct of being a network operator."
That's because, even when you're not using it, your smartphone is constantly pinging the network, letting it know that it's available to take calls and receive text messages.
"We can tie a device back to the cell towers which it registers against," said Hillier, and that pretty much tells you where each customer is, within a block or two.
While this could be a game-changer for sports teams, it could be an even more effective tool for retailers, as Hillier sees it. "There's no reason a retailer couldn't try to understand what's happening around their location," he said.
Does this mean Home Depot would know that after you kicked the tires on all those lawn tractors, you ended up buying one at Costco?
Well, as usual, the official answer is no. Verizon says it "anonymizes" the data, scrubbing it of individual identities. However, and it's a fairly big however, it adds in demographic data that it gets from Big Data venders like Experian, so that the behavior patterns of, say, suburban married white males 25-49 with two children, would become evident.
Frequent stops at McDonald's perhaps?
Verizon executives at a recent conference said they had thought through all the privacy issues and didn't find any problems. Besides, they said, the terms and conditions section of their wireless service contracts makes it clear that they're allowed to do this. So, no problem.
Don't like it? Well, your phone has an on-off button.