The Dutch Personal Data Authority has threatened Bluetrace, a Netherlands-based company, with a fine if it does not change its practices to meet privacy regulations. The company provides devices to help retailers track store traffic by registering the MAC address on smartphones. Bluetrace Wi-Fi receivers track people in a store, as well as passers-by on the street and nearby residents, but the regulator said that it needs to differentiate between store visitors, who have given prior approval for the tracking, and others, who have not. The information collected must also be rendered anonymous and processed within 24 hours. Any other data collected on other people should be deleted. Bluetrace has six months to implement the changes and demonstrate that it is in compliance. It must also improve the information provided to store visitors. If it does not make the changes, the company faces fines of €5,000 (US $5625) per day, up to a maximum €100,000 (US $112,480).
Another major opportunity for the mobile telecom industry is mobile advertising, which relies on (among other things) information about consumer behavior gleaned in real time via public Wi-Fi. Operators can monetize this process by making deals with retailers and mobile advertising service providers that provide special access to the operator’s subscribers. Mobile advertising is a very fast-growing sector; however, this report from the Netherlands sounds a cautionary note. Operators and other entities involved should be aware of the potential not only for regulator sanctions but for alienating the public if the data gathering is perceived as violating privacy. A careful approach that involves above-board acknowledgment of the specifics of the tracking is highly advisable.