Most consumers know that their online shopping activities are being tracked by merchants and advertisers.  But, Hayley Tsukayama, in her June 9th “The Switch” column for The Washington Post, writes that many consumers aren’t aware that merchants are tracking their in person shopping via the consumers’ smartphones wireless Internet connections (www.washingtonpost.com; “How Apple’s new software makes it harder for retailers to track your movements”).

So how easy is it for merchants to track consumers via their smartphones?  The answer is — extremely so!  How is it done?  As Ms. Tsukayama reports, retailers are able to track shoppers — in their stores and even just passing by — using the unique code that smartphones emit when trying to connect to wireless networks (called the MAC address).  Using these codes, merchants are able to discover how often a consumer visits a particular tore or even passes by it.  Nordstrom had been using a program using these codes to track shoppers throughout its stores but stopped doing so after concerted outcry by consumer and privacy advocates.

So what’s the good news from Apple?  In her column, Ms. Tsukayama reports about learning that Apple is attacking this unique code/tracking problem in the new operating system iOS 8 coming this Fall.  Under Apple’s upcoming iOS 8, the code that’s generated will be randomized thus thwarting merchants’ ability to identify iPhones using unique codes.  This very neat solution will help those consumers using Apple smartphones.  However, consumers using other smartphones with other operating systems will still be trackable.

What’s the solution for consumers using non-Apple smartphones?  An available option is one people may not want or like  — and that is, turning their smartphones off when they’re shopping.  I know that’s not ideal but it is one option for all of us.