Wifi spies

PERTH council will track pedestrians by honing in on their mobile phones from this week.

The council will use the data to work out where people walk, how long they linger and how often they come back as a way of measuring the success of events. It can then decide whether the events are worth sponsoring.

Mobile phones constantly send out ethereal tendrils looking for wifi networks to connect with, which lets the council pinpoint where the user is in the city.

01. 940NEWS

Patronise shops

Unlike a laser beam at a door counting how many people can go in, your MAC (media access control) address is unique so they know if you return, or if after going to a publicly-funded art event you then go patronise nearby shops.

The city says the data is anonymous and won’t be shared, but the technique has drawn criticism when it’s been used overseas:

In San Fransciso cafe chain Philz Coffee used the information to streamline shop layouts, focusing on takeaways if patrons were moving through quickly, or putting in more tables if they were sticking around.

But after just a few complaints over privacy the store pulled the technology.

The other issue is that anyone who didn’t see the announcement on the PCC website has no way of consenting.

US attorney David Adler summed up the concern at a recent technology conference in Las Vegas: “I don’t think there’s any way an end user can give meaningful consent to use of their location data. I don’t think end users understand the information that’s being shared”.


One US data-collection company requires stores using its technology to put a sign out informing customers they’re being monitored.

There are ways to avoid being tracked but they drastically reduce a phone’s function.

The council says anyone who wants to opt out (assuming they read the Voice or stumbled across the plan on the council’s website) can switch their phone to airplane mode (disabling phone and internet) or turn off wifi, but that kills the precision of any apps that need GPS like google maps (or more importantly, Tinder) and prevents connection with other networks.


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