Skip to main content

Macy's Starts Tracking iPhones in Stores

If you're a Macy's shopper and an iPhone owner, you may be able to score a few hot deals — provided you don't mind a few nosy apps tracking your every move, that is.

The process is voluntary, but if you download an app called Shopkick and use an iOS device while you're out and about, Macy's will be able to track your every move within one of its stores and send you notifications about deals and items that might pique your interest.

Here's how it works: Shopkick is an iOS and Android app that rewards you for wandering around and shopping at retail stores, and gives you points that you can redeem for gift cards. For shopaholics, it's, admittedly, a pretty handy system.

MORE: 13 Security and Privacy Tips for the Truly Paranoid

iBeacon is a feature available in all iOS 7 devices that uses a low-power Bluetooth transmission to broadcast a user's location. This allows Apple — or app developers leveraging Apple technology — to track users inside buildings, where satellite transmissions may not come through.

Combining the two services, Macy's is pioneering a program that can track iOS 7 devices in its stores and direct Shopkick users to items in their proximity that may be of interest. This means that, based on your preferences and purchase history, the app might direct you to a nice pair of shoes or a marked-down shirt that you'd otherwise pass by.

Right now, the program is only available in Macy's Herald Square location in NYC and in its Union Square store in San Francisco, but should roll out to other stores across the United States within a few weeks.

If the program runs smoothly, Shopkick may want to take the same tack with its other partners, such as Best Buy, Sports Authority and Target.

Don't think that keeping Shopkick deactivated will grant you privacy, either: the app will autostart whenever you enter a store and start tracking your movements.

To be fair, this service could be very useful, especially to bargain hunters who often shop alone and wouldn't mind a companion app that rewards you for purchases you might have made anyway. For others, however, it could skew a bit too Orwellian for comfort.

There's also the matter of privacy. Shopkick sells cheap transmitters to retail stores in order to monitor customer movements. Fair enough: You know what you're getting into once you download the app. However, there's little to prevent an enterprising stalker from getting his hands on one and tracking a target within, say, an apartment building.

If you want out, then you'll have to either uninstall Shopkick, disable iOS 7 location services, or use the app on the Android OS, which does not have anything akin to iBeacon at present.

Otherwise, get comfortable with people tracking you through big retail stores, as Macy's is just the beginning. At least you'll probably find a few good deals.

Follow Marshall Honorof @marshallhonorofand on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.