The patent, ominously titled "Physical Store Online Shopping Control," is for technology that examines what a person is searching for when connected to a retail WiFi network — that is, a WiFi network provided by and located within a store, such as an Amazon bricks-and-mortar location. The technology can actually determine whether you’re searching for a competitor’s item online and take subsequent action.
If the tech finds that you are, indeed, comparison shopping on your phone, it will take one or more "control actions," including fully blocking access to the content, redirecting your phone or sending a sales representative to talk to you. It can also check whether Amazon’s product is more desirable — say, lower priced — at which point, it will allow you to see the information.
Amazon Awarded a Patent on Spying on Customers
Amazon has found an even skeezier way to mistreat customers. Engadget reports that Amazon has been awarded a patent which describes a way to control what you see (and what you don’t) on your smartphone when you’re using the store Wifi network in one of their physical stores.
Just to be clear, there is no evidence that Amazon has developed or deployed the tech involved – all we have is a patent (Engadget got the story wrong on this point).
And we will probably never see this tech in an Amazon store. My rule of thumb is that any time we see a patent before the tech, we will never see the tech in the wild.
As one commenter on the Engadget piece explained, there are many reasons to file a patent that have nothing to do with using the tech described in the patent.
A patent by no means indicates someone has the technology to do something. People patent futuristic ideas all the time. Anyone wondered whether Amazon patented this to stop its competitors from doing it not so they can actually do it? To ensure customers can always use Amazon to price match at Wal-Mart?
Did you know that the Walmart Android app automatically prompts you to log on to its in-store Wifi network?
While we don’t know that Walmart would ue this trick to keep users from comparison-shopping, it is easy to see why Amazon would want a patent it could use to block the practice.
That makes a lot more sense than the idea that Amazon plans to use this tech themselves – or do you really think they want to piss off their customers?
image by jmerelo