You may already know that advertisers have to work harder than ever to attract our attention. In a world where TV viewers can skip commercials and web surfers can tune out even the most annoying pop-up ads, companies have to look for new ways to capture the attention of their customers.

One of the newest ways for advertisers to get our attention is by using their own technology to track their movements. You may not realize it, but many companies are already tracking where we go and what we do, all through the smartphones in our pockets.

smartphone privacy

Many users do not realize that the smartphones in their pockets are actually sophisticated tracking devices. The location services on your phone keep track of where you are now, where you came from and how you got there. This kind of tracking technology may be great when you are using your GPS, but not so great when you are walking through the airport or the local department store.

This unique form of advertising and information gathering is known as Mobile Location Analytics, and it is not going away any time soon. In fact, the technologies that make it all possible keep getting better, and that means more tracking, not less. Mobile Location Analytics uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, along with the MAC address on your mobile device, to track your movements and know precisely where you are.

When you travel, the airport can know exactly how much time you spent in the coffee shop, which stores you visited and even how long you stood in the security line. When you hit the local department store, the retailer can tell how long you lingered over that sweater and even which dress you tried on. Even though the information cannot be tied directly to you, many people still feel it is an invasion of privacy.

If you find MLA invasive and more than slightly creepy, you can take steps to protect yourself and your data. Some customers are already rebelling against this constant tracking, and a number of retailers are allowing their customers to opt out. If you want to tell the stores you visit not to track you, check out the Smart Store Privacy section of the Future of Privacy Forum. While this privacy policy does not cover all retailers, it is a good start. As more consumers decide that MLA tracking invades their privacy, additional retailers are expected to sign up.

privacy rules

You will need to gather some information from your smartphone before you can opt out of the tracking technology. Specifically you will need the MAC address, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings of your smartphone. Locating the MAC address can be the most difficult part, since it has a different look than the others. The MAC address will be 12 digits long, and it will look something like 92:15:6F:95:D5:A9.

If you have an Apple smartphone, bring up the Settings menu, go to General and then About to find the Wi-Fi address and Bluetooth settings. Turn on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if you do not see an address, then check again.

If you use an Android smartphone, go to Settings, then About Phone to see the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth addresses. Again, if the addresses are missing you will need to turn on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and check again.

Finding the MAC address is a bit trickier, since the location varies from device to device. Start by looking under Status or Hardware Information. If it is not there, go to Start, Settings and look for Wireless LAN and then Advanced and find the MAC address field.

Opting out of MLA tracking is not easy. After all, the technology industry has a vested interest in learning as much as possible about its customers. If you feel that your privacy is being invaded, however, taking the time to find your MAC address and opt out of tracking can be time well spent.