In your wallet, there is a loyalty card. The store's computer knows what you've spent in there, what you've bought, how often you purchase things. It is location-tracking you. It knows you've never been in the shoe section before. It can tell by the way you pick up those awful sandals and put them down again that you're just wasting time there before you go to the toy section and buy your boy some Lego, like you've done five times already in the past year.
You fire up the Wi-Fi again, and send out a tweet. "This store annoys me," you write. "The ground floor always stinks of perfume."
The store knows that, too. Its head office is running a program that monitors thousands of tweets every minute. It looks for its name, and for negative terms, such as "stinks". When the number of people tweeting about the smell hits a certain level, they'll shift the perfumes. Or the shoes.
Welcome to modern retailing. Have a nice day.
"Now, the question is: is that really informed consent? Do people really understand that's happening? I would suggest probably not, because no one really reads those things and no one puts effective summaries at the top."
Increasingly, data is being used to help advertisers better target their marketing dollars. Again, the question is whether or not people are generally aware that this is happening. Transparency is important.'' CEO Laurie Patton
As these things go, it is not excessive, but it is particularly relevant, because earlier this month the company started promoting a bizarre new service.
For a long time, Domino's customers who order home delivery have been able to track their meal's journey from oven to front door. Now, however, people ordering pick-up pizzas are encouraged to activate a feature on their smart phones that allows the store to location-track them as they travel in.
Domino's internet ordering system also collates "your feedback; your entries into our competitions and draws; your menu preferences and previous order information; any delivery instructions or comments" and how often you use "eVouchers" to pay for stuff.
It needs to be stressed that Domino's isn't unusual in collecting all this information, nor is it out of line in its determination (which you agree to, remember) to flog off its database to third parties. Indeed, it requires customers to consciously opt in to its location-tracking service, and pledges to dump the travel data thus obtained three hours after the meal has been collected. These are niceties. It is not obliged to do either.
"The Domino's matter strikes me as an overuse of technology," said Lawrence. "Is that really an issue that they have? I think a pizza shop can survive quite well without that sort of technology. Potentially it gives them access to that sort of location information whenever they want to. Now, I don't imagine they will do that, but they can if they want."
As digital technologies, social media and predictive algorithms become ever more powerful, and ever more cross-referential, the business of retailing is turning increasingly to data collection as a tool for inferring customer desires and behaviour. The trend raises interesting questions about where sales-motivated surveillance turns into a breach of privacy.
In February this year, Dr Jingwen Liu and colleagues from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo published a proposed classification system for customer behaviour recorded on in-store cameras.
"We propose a system to classify different customer behaviours on the front of shelf: no interest, viewing, turning body to shelf, touching, picking and returning to shelf and picking and putting into basket, which show customer's increasing interest to products," the team wrote.
"In the proposed system, head orientation, body orientation, and arm action, the multiple cues are integrated for customer behaviour recognition."
The Tokyo study followed on from a 2014 paper by IBM researcher Avi Yaeli and colleagues, exploring the use of phone-based customer location-tracking within stores. The tactic, they wrote "means retailers and enterprises can gain insight into customer behaviour patterns and understand, for example, how much time customers spend in different areas of the store, what routes they take, how well they are serviced, and more."
All this seems a tad Orwellian – as you browse the shop, the shop browses you – but whether in-store surveillance and large-scale data gathering through online ordering and loyalty schemes represent unwarranted intrusions into our lives is rather a matter of opinion.
While Jon Lawrence at the EFA recommends phone-users should turn off their GPS functions and reject all requests to share location, Internet Australia, the non-profit peak group representing internet users, has a more nuanced view.
"Increasingly, data is being used to help advertisers better target their marketing dollars," said CEO Laurie Patton. "Again, the question is whether or not people are generally aware that this is happening. Transparency is important."
Privacy, he added, needed to be balanced against convenience: "While it could initially be a bit unnerving to discover that you are receiving targeted ads, it might also be a good thing. For example, if you don't have children but you are looking to buy a new car it might be nice to receive ads for motor vehicles rather than ads for nappies."
Not everyone in the field, however, is quite so sanguine.
"Surveillance is central to the construction of consumers and markets," wrote Professor Kristie Ballof St Andrews University School of Management earlier this year.
"Many contemporary marketing practices are surveillant as they rely on the collection, analysis and application of consumer data to place advertising, define market segments and to nudge consumer behaviours. Consumer surveillance is also an enactment of corporate power, attempting to align individual preferences with corporate goals."
Associate Professor M.G. Michael of the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Wollongong notes that the ubiquity of personalised devices has altered the way in which voice and data traffic is measured, revealing new use patterns.
"This has changed the way that companies now market their products and services and sell directly to individuals," he wrote in 2015. "Beyond marketing is the intimate knowledge gathered of why people do things, inferred by pattern-of-life data and metadata."
Michael coined the term "ubersurveillance" to describe this new reality. It is now in the Macquarie Dictionary.
Not all customer monitoring is aimed at influencing individual choices. At the other end of the scale, there is increasing demand for large-scale data analysis, in which emerging issues and changing trends can be identified through reading millions of social media posts.
One of the most robust systems for performing this type of customer relations management – as the field is known – has been developed by the CSIRO's Data61 division. Called VIZIE, it monitors several social media platforms in real time, aggregating information on a vast scale, allowing its users to identify and rapidly respond to issues. Focus can be adjusted from population to individual level, if needed.
"As you can imagine, if you have a lot of data coming in from a lot of sources, there is an information overload problem, so you need an effective way to summarise those particular aspects," said Dr Stephen Wan, one of the system's developers.
"Maybe there's a lot of people talking about some product or service that is doing particularly well in one way or another. So seeing the frequency counts for this is a good way to summarise that piece of public feedback. Of course, it can be used for both positive and negative feedback that is in the public sphere."
In a way, VIZIE primarily amplifies individual sentiment. Anybody tweeting something nasty about a store does so partly in the hope that the management will see it. In cases where the anger is widespread, the CSIRO system ensures that happens.
At least, it does if the store in question uses it. VIZIE has been rolled out across a number of government bodies, including the Department of Human Services and Centrelink. Wan declined to say if it is used by any commercial concerns, noting only that the CSIRO was always on the lookout for partners.
So shopping today is often synonymous with being surveilled and with surrendering private information. If that makes you uncomfortable, however, consider this: in just a few years things could get much, much worse.
This is primarily for two reasons: the imminent rollout of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Briefly, the IoT is the household system, already well advanced, that will integrate all your domestic electrical goods into a single app-controlled matrix. Your fridge will order your groceries online, your fuse box will call a sparky, your coffee machine will buy more Vittoria.
To do any of these things, your IoT devices will have to tell those on the other end of the line who you are, where you live and how you're going to pay. It will be a two-way street.
"[IoT] transactions linked to the same identifier are traceable, and ultimately make people also traceable, hence their privacy is threatened," wrote a team from Deakin University in Melbourne and Raboud University in the Netherlands earlier this year.
Augmented reality – typified by location-specific heads-up displays relayed through special spectacles – seems certain to be jumped upon by cyber-marketers keen to link known customer preferences with opportunity and store location. The potential for the technology to turn lives into a nightmare of overlaid advertising was recently imagined in a remarkable short film, Hyper Reality, made by British artist Keiichi Matsuda.
Stefan Pernar of Ballarat-based Virtual Reality Ventures, Australia's leading expert on new video technologies, sees little cause for alarm. Ad-blocking systems, he said, can be deployed to blunt the promotional onslaught.
He added, however, that some things are unlikely to change. Free in-store Wi-Fi in the future will be exactly the same – and exactly as problematic – as it is today.
"With AR glasses on our faces most of our waking hours, in, say, 10 years, a host of new information will be able to derived from that," he said. "But the core wisdom about online services still holds: If it's free, you are the product."
Citation: Andrew Masterton, June 23, 2016, "While you're browsing in a shop, the shop is browsing you", The Sydney Morning Herald, https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/orwell-in-2016-is-called-ubersurveillance-20160622-gpp8am.html