Big Brother gone wild: Airport installs technology to track every passenger's footsteps around the airport

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(NaturalNews) Big Brother just keeps getting more powerful and pervasive, thanks to technology, and what's more, hundreds of millions of people accept this as just "part of" living in the Digital Age.

According to Britain's The Telegraph newspaper, all mobile phones that are logged into the Wi-Fi network at Helsinki Airport in Finland's capital city will be monitored by an in-house tracking system that identifies passenger movements in real time.

As you might imagine, such technology is already being criticized by privacy and civil rights groups, but no matter: Officials who back the technology say it is all for your protection. Specifically, reports say that it is "aimed at monitoring crowds and preventing bottlenecking at the airport, which sees around 15 million passengers a year."

About 150 white boxes, each of which being the size of a wireless Internet router, have been positioned at various points all over the airport. They are equipped with technology from the Finland-based retail analytics company Walkbase, and each is designed to collect the "unique identifier numbers" of all mobile devices that have their Wi-Fi access turned on.

As reported by Bloomberg News:

Such systems are being deployed more widely as physical shops seek to remove a disadvantage against online retailers who are more advanced in analyzing the digital traces left by customers.

Data are not saved - allegedly

The Helsinki Airport operator, Finavia Oyj, allegedly won't be able to see any personal information about the user or the device itself; all data reportedly stays in an aggregated form, according to Tuomas Wuoti, the chief executive officer of Walkbase. Also, company officials say that the software discards the unique identifiers of all devices after pulling only the necessary data out.

Furthermore, officials say that passengers can "opt-in" for additional services simply by logging into the network via a separate application such as an airline app or retail store app, in order to get sales offers from the airport's various shops and more than 32 restaurants and cafes, in addition to any relevant flight data. Users who want to access the Wi-Fi network will be notified about the monitoring system before they actually log in.

"We're looking at great paybacks from this investment," Heikki Koski, vice president in charge of new services at Finavia Oyj, said in an interview with Bloomberg. "We can manage the airport better, we can predict where bottlenecks might come and analyze everything more thoroughly."

Currently in its early phases, the full tracking system is not expected to be in place until the end of 2014. Then, the technology could enable shops to specifically target passengers that are close to them, "such as a deli that could alert a passenger walking by of a certain item on sale," The Telegraph added.

Customers are concerned

But software security analysts said they find it hard to believe that "location tracking is only left at statistics" levels.

"The fact that my movements are tracked is a scarier thought than someone knowing which websites I visit," Antti Tikkanen, director of security response at the software maker F-Secure Oyj, told Bloomberg.

The tracking technology has also been met with concerns from customers at the U.S.-based department store retailer Nordstrom, where the system was tested last year. Customers criticized it for monitoring them unwarily.

Koski said that passenger privacy concerns are "extremely important" to his company.

Citing experience from retailers and initial trials at the airport, Walkbase expects about 60 to 70 percent of people to leave their Wi-Fi access on, Bloomberg reported.


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