Retailers Are Tracking Your Every Move. Use This Website to Opt Out

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STAN HONDA / AFP / Getty Images

Increasingly data-hungry retailers have been quietly leveraging customers’ smartphones to track their movements within stores in recent years. But a new website will allow you to opt out if you’d rather not have these companies following your every step.

Right now a variety of retailers, airports and malls log customer movements by utilizing unique identifiers within smartphones, called MAC addresses, that let phones interact with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sensors. Using the data, retailers can analyze consumer habits to figure out which areas of a store are most heavily shopped or when a new checkout line should be opened. The MAC address does not reveal a customer’s name, phone number or email address.

The new opt-out website,, was developed by the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington D.C. based think-tank focused on data privacy issues, and the Wireless Registry, an organization that allows people to register and save their wireless names and identifiers. Eleven different analytics companies that provide location tracking data to retailers have agreed to honor the opt-out requests. Customers will begin being removed from the tracking programs in March.

The opt-out option is part of a broader code of conduct that the tracking companies have agreed to follow, which also require them to delete tracking data after a certain period of time and explain the types of information they collect on their websites. The rules will affect thousands of physical stores and airports, according to Jules Polonetsky, the executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum. He declined to name any specific retailers that make use of the tracking technology.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have argued that tracking a customer’s movements within their store is no different from the way an online retailer uses cookies to track customers’ clicks on a website. The new opt-out option mirrors the Do Not Track initiative that currently allows users to avoid having tracking cookies placed on their browsers by analytics companies and ad networks when they visit certain websites.

Updated, Feb. 19, to clarify description of the Wireless Registry