Getting Artificially Intelligent in Commercial Real Estate: Using Consumers’ Smartphone Data to Negotiate Deals

The fact that smartphones are perfect surveillance devices has been kicked around for a long time. And the data are immensely useful in B2B.

Wolf here: Most of the discussions center on how smartphones spy on their users in order to bombard them with the most effective ads and sell them more stuff. But there are other aspects to their spying that have been commercialized for entirely different purposes, where this user data is being used in actionable behind-the-scenes business-to-business dealings. So here is an example of how immensely useful the consumer data is in commercial real estate…

By John E. McNellis, Principal at McNellis Partners, for WOLF STREET:

Geofence: A virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, such as a shopping center or retail space.

Owning retail has been challenging since the Great Recession. You likely know the reasons why: overbuilding, the internet, rapacious private equity, too many lackluster tenants. You also know that every move you make—every breath you take—is recorded by your mobile phone. This latter circumstance has allowed a clever company, Placer AI, to develop the most useful tool for commercial real estate since Hewlett Packard introduced the HP-12C in 1981. (A phenomenal financial calculator, the 12C has become the abacus of our time, used by a slowly dwindling number of mandarins).

While Placer’s software is no doubt breathtakingly complex, its tool is—in essence—as simple as a bouncer counting a nightclub’s patrons with a clicker. Placer allows one to set up a “geofence” around a shopping center, a retail building or even a tiny tenant’s space and then calculate that finite area’s walk-in traffic by counting the phones crossing its threshold. By using those phone visits and an algorithm or two, Placer delivers an accurate traffic count of the geofenced area.  A Swiss Army knife looks like a spoon compared with the multiple uses this traffic count offers.

On offense, a landlord can use Placer to prove her center has more foot traffic than, say, three competing centers and thus entice potential tenants to lease her vacant space.  She can use this data to figure out the “path to purchase”, that is, where her center’s customers are coming from and, incidentally, where they live. (If your phone stays put long during the day, the algorithm says you work there; at night, that you live there.) With this information, she can approach a tenant already in the trade area, show it’s getting no traffic from a key zip code and argue that it should add a new store at her center to fill that void.

On defense, it works like this: The tenant says, “I have no customers, I can’t pay rent.” The savvy landlord replies, “Actually, Placer says your foot traffic is fine. Pay up.”  Or when it comes time to renew a lease, that multi-billion dollar purveyor of coffee says, “You need to drop our rent by 20 percent or we’re walking.” You hand over the Placer data that ranks your store’s traffic in the top quartile of coffee’s northern California stores. Coffee sighs, stops the saber rattling and quietly exercises its option.

Placer AI is relatively new, I just heard of it (no surprise there, I’m still tapping away on my 12C), but the biggest retail players already have it, giving them yet another great advantage over the little guys in the industry. What’s the little guy to do? Placer is expensive—subscribers pay a fixed annual fee based on its number of individual users. The CEO of one super-regional brokerage firm told me his firm was paying $40,000 a year, while a major REIT put its subscription cost at $100,000 a year.  Way beyond the reach of the casual investor or small company doing a couple deals a year.

What should the little guy do?  Easy. Insist on getting the Placer data for free from his brokerage firm.  The biggest companies—CBRE, Cushman Wakefield, Marcus & Millichap, etc.—either have it or their key retail brokers do.  If some broker is trying to convince you to buy a Walgreen’s in Elko (don’t), make him fork over the store’s foot traffic.  If you’re playing defense—say, a coffee renewal—ask your favorite broker to run the traffic data for you. (By the way, this is another reason to pay full commissions).

We did just this; we have a major tenant with a lease option coming up at fair market rent. As part of the negotiations, we asked this tenant for its profit and loss statement for our store and got crickets. Then we asked our go-to broker to placer the store’s traffic for us. That report put our store’s traffic in the top 10 percent of this tenant’s nationwide portfolio. A useful bit of information.

A final note: foot traffic is great, but it’s only one of the two variables you need to calculate the tenant’s gross sales and thus its profitability (your ultimate goal). The other? That particular tenant’s average ticket or basket size.  That might take some sleuthing, with the internet being a good place to start. The net will tell you, for example, that the average basket for a supermarket is $55. If Placer says your store has 750,000 customer visits a year, you can guess that it’s doing around $41,000,000 in annual sales. Good luck. By John E. McNellis, author of Making it in Real Estate: Starting Out as a Developer.

Working from anywhere has cost cutters drooling. At Dropbox, “All expense categories benefited from lower facilities related costs, driven by our employees working from home.” Read… What Dropbox’s $400 Million Real-Estate Loss Says about Office Rents in San Francisco’s Biggest Office Glut Ever

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  69 comments for “Getting Artificially Intelligent in Commercial Real Estate: Using Consumers’ Smartphone Data to Negotiate Deals

  1. Good to know I am under the average supermarket basket. I definitely am not making extra trips. Too bad consumers don’t have this info. I hear your foot traffic is down, how about 10% off?

    • Buddy says:

      Consumers have this information; they are happily handing it over for free to any willing taker. Otherwise Placer would have no data lake to tap into.

  2. 2banana says:

    As simple…?

    Businesses have been doing this for years.

    Just wondering.

    All data can be “gamed” once the game gets out and there is lots of money on the line.

    See the “Google Traffic Artist” and Uber drivers setting up repeater phones in higher cost locations.

    “While Placer’s software is no doubt breathtakingly complex, its tool is—in essence—as simple as a bouncer counting a nightclub’s patrons with a clicker.”

    • roddy6667 says:

      Twenty years ago, before smart phones, Walmart was logging your mobile phone number at the checkout. They knew how often you came to the store and how much you spent.

      • MitchJ says:

        Unlikely .. as there wasn’t a technology to capture your cell phone number. Unless you were in the nsa.

        • roddy6667 says:

          They used the same technology that was used to illegally clone phones. I had one. People would sit near an airport or other high usage location. It would log the number and other information, enough to make a clone. Phones were not secure back then. I could listen in on mobile phone conversations on my Bearcat scanner.

    • raxadian says:

      A place that wants to show more traffic that it already has could have a single guy going on regulary with six or seven smartphones being turned on. Would work best on places were people buys something quickly then leaves.

      And that’s the easiest way I can think off faking the data

  3. Top-GUN says:

    Carry my trusty HP 12C everywhere I go.. Also own an 11C scientific.
    My first HP was an HP 35, bought in about 1973/74,, for a little over $200.
    When they first came out, 1971/72 they were around $500,,, their was also an HP 45 around $750…and came with a glove tight goat skin case…
    Their is a certain type,of brain that loves HP calculators that don’t have an equals (=) key.

    • WES says:

      Yep! HP replaced rubbing bamboo sticks in engineering school!

      Sure made tests and exams harder as the amount of time required to do the math to solve a problem using a calculator fell significantly! Now profs could ask twice as many questions!

      • Anthony A. says:

        I went through engineering school with a slide rule (M.E.). Calculators came out in my senior year and the profs didn’t let us use them!

        I’m a dinosaur I guess.

        • WES says:

          You were so lucky but didn’t know it at the time!

          I got caught in the change-over starting 3rd year when calculators dropped to $50 verses $35 for slide rule!

          With slide rule doing the math took so long that profs could only ask questions centered on the core areas of study. This made studying much easier. Also answers often ended in whole numbers not numbers with endless decimals!

          Once math calculation times dropped, then one had to broaden what to study because profs could now throw in outlier questions to separate the boys from the men.

          It also changed the way one had to approach exams. There was no time to get hung up on a problem you didn’t immediately know how to solve, forcing you to quickly move on to another question.

        • Paulo says:

          Interesting article and information. Speaking of phones, my wife and I made a conscious decision to never own one when one day we were having lunch in a great little seaside cafe and we watched a young couple on their respective phones the entire meal. But as every year goes by, it is getting harder and harder to function without one, especially during Covid when businesses require a phone call from the parking lot to announce your check in. There are also no pay phones left standing. I picked up 3 free/used commercial radios and had a bunch of Ham frequencies programmed in, then installed them in our vehicles. I also bought a Chinese Ham radio that was offered as ‘unrestricted’. I bought the installation software and programmed in every frequency I could ever use, Marine, Amateur, Aviation, and local commercial frequencies. We’re covered, and nothing to track. :-) And yes, I am licensed for all of the above, but the radio is illegal. I believe the correct term is non compliant. (Just like me).

        • eg says:

          My father (an engineer) had a slide rule, but I could never figure out how to use it.

          I couldn’t afford one of those HPs so I had a crappy off-brand RPN scientific calculator until I gave up on such esoterica and got the TI-30 instead. Good times.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        Pickett log-log-base3/then HP35 for the well-heeled, Sterling plastic then the red-led readout TI-16 for the proles…(extra time granted to impoverished slipstick users in exams for a few years after the advent of ‘advanced’ personal calculators-the original ‘pc’s’…).

        may we all find a better day.

    • VoltaMom says:

      I still have, and use, the 12C I got for my job starting in 1990. Works great for real estate math.

    • Javert Chip says:

      reverse Polish brain

    • Seneca’s Cliff says:

      Let’s not forget the king of all HP calculators, the HP41cv. It was fully programmable and had plug in modules for memory, surveying etc. When I met my wife in engineering school she had one of these that she had purchased with her summer earnings waiting on tourists in a department store on Maui. How could I resist such a girl, exotic island beauty and the brains to use one of these calculating “beasts.” I would posit that all computer development beyond the 41cv has been “fluff.” You could program a flight plan to the moon but no-one could spy on you. truly the pinnacle civilization.

  4. K says:

    If they were truly intelligent, they would long since have sold off most of their commercial real estate, at least in areas where the land itself is not valuable enough to be easily redeveloped into residential properties. LOL. Before the pandemic, malls were not exactly a growth stock already, albeit many will survive.

    I suppose that, as in OC California’s malls, many are still good safety investments if you anticipate the coming stock market crash: they cannot go down in value too much more and their real estate holdings are often prime.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      What’s getting killed are department stores, clothing stores, and indoor malls. But grocery stores, home improvement stores, Costco, etc. are still doing very well. And this article is about a deal with Home Depot, one of the winners of the Pandemic.

      • K says:

        I am sure that the providers of necessaries, e.g., food, will continue to do well and survive. If economic stress increases and this lasts into 2022, the range of necessities purchased might narrow. (If I were a mall/office building owner, I would offer my mall/building as a location for food providers and supermarkets even if only for low rents, because low rents are better than no rents and this might last.)

        As to others businesses, I sure hope that those who say that the whole world has to get vaccinated or worse variants will evolve in countries without vaccines, spread, and come visit us are wrong. If they are right, assuming that our borders remain open, we may be not be near the end of this and more retailers and landlords will suffer as their financial resources get exhausted.

        • roddy6667 says:

          In China the large supermarkets (hypermarkets) are almost always in the basement level of a multi-story department store or a mall. Everybody needs to shop for food, and that foot traffic feeds the rest of the building.

        • K says:


          Yes, there are some supermarkets in other buildings in the US also. Definitely, those supermarkets have been able to remain open. Also, those stores like Target that also sell food have been able thereby to keep the part of their businesses, in the same location, that only sells TV, etc., open while regular TV/electronics stores had to close.

          I think that even post-pandemic there will more landlords who try to get even smaller retailers that sell food stuffs into their malls and buildings. You can never be too sure if a certain country might not have another coincidence/”accident,” e.g., if they want to invade Taiwan.

        • Dale says:

          About 6 years ago our local Target remodeled to install a grocery section.

          Both the selection and prices are inferior to local grocers such as Kroger. But this allowed them to stay open through the pandemic.

          Have been wondering if the grocery section was a conscious risk mitigation, such as when Anheuser Busch owned Seaworld when it didn’t make sense economically.

    • Alberta says:

      Loved my HP 11C the to cool for school tool :-)

  5. polecat says:

    I don’t know …. I think machine learning will be the death of us lowlymokes , Mr. McNellis, … to the point where we will collectively reach an apogee, whereby Idiocracy, Wallee, and THX1138 converge .. rendering humanity generally – as unthinking rote organs subordinate to Multinational Overlords – comprised of warring Oligarchs. But hey .. it works for YOU – by ‘YOU’ I mean being for Profit at All Costs .. even as the environment we all need to survive as a species collapses .. It’s Still ALL Good , right?

    I point being that we’re collectively approaching an ecological tipping point, while AI has us completely distracted and atomized , we’ll, as a society, will be left totally prepared for what’s to come!

    • polecat says:


      Ahh! … the wonderous crapafiction that is ‘Autocorrect’ …

      See there??, I plead my case!

    • Javert Chip says:


      It was tough wading thru all your virtue signaling verbiage, but I got the general drift that you’re uncomfortable with certain types of information (note: data is a necessary but insufficient precursor of information), especially if you’re listening to more of it than you have the bandwidth to process

      I didn’t intended that as a derogatory comment; the internet effortlessly seduces ignoramuses into thinking they know something about anything…everything. All you need to do is read a Wikipedia article.

      Example: 1 week into the GameStop short sale episode, people previously thinking shorts were something you wore in summer, all of a sudden “internet knew” EVERYTHING about stock market short selling, gamma squeezes and DTCC margin calls. YAHOO!

      The internet exposes PhDs and Joe-Sixpac alike, to infinitely more information than they can possibly process. Unfortunately, the majority don’t have the critical thinking skills to weed out the obviously untrue or ridiculously trivial. Throughout Homo Sapiens’ 200-300,000 years of history, the successful have had the ability to filter what they needed & just went with it.

    • Thomas Roberts says:


      Ecologically, it depends on where you live. If you are in the Americas, Europe, or AU/NZ; you should be fine. Most of asia (including middle east) is probably screwed though, Africa (Most of it) could go either way.

      I do know how machine working and AI works, most AI things all boil down to neural networks. Other than neural networks, there has been almost no major advancements in general purpose AI. Some specific AI implementations like self driving cars, are making progress though. Automation is advancing, which is a very positive thing. The only issue is that society has to push for less working hours in a year to compensate. In the end, just like always, the people in a developed society will suffer or not, based on how well they think long term and force actual democracy.

    • roddy6667 says:

      “Idiocracy, Wallee, and THX1138 converge .. rendering humanity generally – as unthinking rote organs subordinate to Multinational Overlords – comprised of warring Oligarchs.”

      We are already there.

      • kitten lopez says:

        “We are already there.”

        thanks; i got seriously confused as to what comment section i was lurking in, because i thought by now it was supercalifragilistic and hella way too horrifying obvious… but apparently it’s NOT…

        …and that’s precisely why i’ve given up on people as even a basic rag tag team–for any future relevant art revolution good sex fun times common sense wisdom or RAVAGING OBVIOUS SELF INTEREST not to turn everything into sewage tsunamis and mass suicide— for the future of the raccoons).

        my lurking on this site is evidence of my threadbare hopes we’ll turn things around at half time but we appear at the end of the fourth quarter of this American experiment because we have just too many different ideas about who and what God is.

        no. this has never been a site about just Money, Wolf. i realize that a lot of us crawled here on our knees to understand what happened to US, to understand this Money God that has brought us here NOW by the short hairs.

        This site is entirely existential. / But if i feel more at home HERE online (this is my last real haunt online as i wean myself off an innerweb world even more than before), so if i still come HERE to understand and feel welcome, i can’t completely write us off as a species JUST yet.

        I think getting to the realization: “We are already there” is like a stage you have to go through–more AI is like the bargaining stage and throwing your family into the furnace to feed the bio-fuel bullshit fantasy and why i’m also long over the benign power of words in a world where bio-mass is “green.” more sewage.

        i see why Unamused lurks and ceases to speak. / what’s the point of saying anything anymore when you could do better things with the time editing and fighting and yeah… WHERE IS MICHAEL ENGEL. and RD.

        i don’t wanna email to not get an answer or force someone in his family to tell me bad new. the Internet makes us love other people funny because they’re here one day gone the next. / this seems unnatural.

        i’m okay. not suicidal. just despairing whenever i see us double down on whatever got us HERE. i just see how much longer hell is gonna blossom and i drag my ass back to the gym for the squats bench presses and such. screw used gym machines for 5 cents on the dollar/ that’s blood sweat like shorting your own health. free weights made in America / i sound so don’t tread on me but i GET it now and how we were taught to make fun of “they took our jerbs” even on SOUTH PARK. we parroted our own calls to ruin us!

        as a novelist i see how we had it coming. it’s not just karma; it’s mathematical at this point. / that’s karma, i guess.

        regardless of blame– the chum of the innerwebs– you’re not gonna wanna be out of any kind of shape in America’s future. whether you’ll be clawing your way into a full time mcdonald’s fryer position or fighting off a gang bang so you can get 10 minutes of sleep on a storm grate, you’re not gonna wanna be recliner-trained for the future here, because no matter how big your neck horn is or how fast you can twiddle your thumbs, you won’t be able to protect your orifices by tweeting and deplatforming / that’s what it’s coming down to in The Real.

        but that’s what this is a battle between, right? The Abstract vs. The Real and now that we have no god we’re looking for answers in political parties or slogans and posters.

        Where’s my baby raccoon, again?


        Happy Sunday. and i hate the kind of people who say Happy Tuesday and such. it seems so generic and salesmanny. ugh.

        Happy Sunday! –well, i used to make fun of girls who wore pink and now i realize it’s the only shade you can mix without too much worry about matching when you pull your clothes off a hook.

        i was wrong about damn near Everything and figure i still am. i’m trying to learn to live without a story or an idea of damn near Anything.

        i feel age 5. i can read/speak but i have NO IDEA what or why the adults do anything when it all looks so un fun. now i’ve gotta figure out their incentives and try and hide my own so they seem similar enough. but when you don’t give a rat’s ass about money and behaving to get more, you ALWAYS get found out.


        but that’s where the often 5D kindness of strangers kicks in and we’re just as sweet and worthy of fighting for like the adorable raccoons. we all get to be here. that’s the crux of this biscuit, right?

        Wolf i’ll take the cut of this comment if it went way off, and not divorce you or even take it personally. it’s Sunday. my day of indulging such thoughts without a bit of shame.

        but more and more… NO, this is NOT “just a money site.”


        • mgold-8 says:

          Dear Kitten Lopez,

          It always makes my day when I see your name on the screen. I originally got hooked on Wolf’s site last year because of all the time I would spend trying to make sense of the prophesies of Michael Engel and yourself. I, too, worry about unamused, (and Michael Engel), and hope we will hear from them again when the time is right. If not sooner. The other commenter who I miss (who might not even be missing, it could just be me) is Zantetsu (sp?). He is so consistently crabby that I find it endearing!

          With great admiration,

        • kitten lopez says:

          Good Morning, Michael– mgold-8–

          with great appreciation, thanks for writing. i wince at my own too-much-leaky-information dispatches, so thank you for feeling similarly. / especially about crabby people. i agree because crabby people are usually the sweetest. the chirpy, generically safe “have a happy tuesday” ones will shiv you in a second. / i know.


          have a lovely Monday.


  6. Mr. Wake Up says:

    Thanks John!
    Placer AI – Thanks for the heads up/ tip!

    And double thank you for the “pay the full commission sponsorship!

    Agent in my office has a good track record of not giving up, had 2 deals fall through on an industrial lease.

    The 2nd deal – lease negotiations became extremely frustrating as the LL kept over negotiating and time consuming in addition it was with a Co Broker who kept threating outside interest from other tenants.

    3rds a charm.
    3rd and final LL a professional LL who had a space several months ago ( our tenant was too early in his requirement) lost out on the space and reached out with a new availability.

    No co broker and paid out 7&3’s on a 7 year $500k annual deal. The LL won, the Tenant won, and the luckily the agent who never gives up won too! Win win win. Something many people still dont understand today.

  7. DR DOOM says:

    Looking over the economic landscape which is growing smaller every day one wonders when,the religion of data is met with its own counter valent form of heresy. The giddy goal of corralling people into purchase kill zones will fail. And why is that? People do not behave rational nor in their self interest most of the time. To wit, look at the government that has been delivered over decades by the electorate. Keep the pipe dream alive while watching the pie shrink with constantly improving survelliance technology. It will dawn on most in the next 30 years. The new religion will then be Luddite based. We humans can in-explicable beat the shit out of a robot that is serving us if in that service it touches our defiant nerve.Why is that? We are not rational creatures. The human condition has not been advanced by a willing survelliance population which finances its own surveillance. Adversity is the only stimulus that makes a better way. Not indulgent dreaming .

  8. GotCollateral says:

    Metadata Spoofing…

    Works in South Waziristan…

    Works even better in NYC…


    • doug says:

      To giant hordes of employed folks: ‘Take this phone for the day and do this with it. I will pay you a pittance.’

      From the giant hordes: Me first! me first!

      Only slightly harder than clik farms…

  9. Anthony A. says:

    I love this stuff! But when inflation rears its ugly head, and the market crashes, and the economy tanks, the peons will stop spending as much, or at all. Then all these remote spying headcount stuff won’t be worth a hill of beans.

    We already have a ton of see thru strip centers around here and more are being built as I type this (I’m not kidding here, one mile away three new ones under construction). This is not going to end well regardless of the AI counting software.

  10. Russell says:

    Similar to when CarFax came out. Initially the consumer paid for the service to ensure the used car dealers didn’t take them to the cleaners. Next some dealers offered the report because they wanted an edge against other dealers. Now all dealers offer it just to be competitive. Regardless, CarFax gets paid$$$.

  11. timbers says:

    Well, thank goodness The Founding Fathers of The United States of America all had iPhones and posted their doings at The Constitutional Conventions on FakeBook and Twitter and were very careful not to use words like “uprising” “insurrection” “voter fraud” “they stole the vote” “freedom” “slaves” “3/5ths” “this meeting is so darn long I have to pee” that AI algorithms would have blocked on YouTube.

    If George Washington hadn’t bought his wooden dentures on Amazon, his Parlor account probably would have been deleted along with Alexander Hamilton’s and our first President could have been Betsy Ross. The horror!

    And then where would be we be? Probably an small state sandwhiched in-between the United States Republics of Mexi-Canada.

  12. Benjamin Davies says:

    Is this not an over simplification of finding value in assets and business’s such as good will?

    How does placer factor in random variables such as homeless shelters, weather, major events such as a sporting game if a shopping mall is next a major event stadium..

    If only President Hoover had this tool to defend high unemployment at the start of the 1930’s

  13. SaltyGolden says:

    Great article, so interesting.

    Maybe a lagging indicator though? It has already hit the fan, once the numbers present?

  14. Walker in the City says:

    Question for the techies: if I keep the location services on my phone turned Off [except when using Waze], can they still track me? My daughter keeps her bluetooth off, but I like to be able to check my fitbit to see who’s calling on the phone.
    Any other self-defense suggestions?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      To avoid tracking, put your phone on airplane mode :-]

      They can track you by your phone’s id number unless you disconnect from wireless services, which is what airplane mode does (except Bluetooth).

      Bluetooth should always be off. Turn on for the few things you actually need it, then turn off again.

      Turn Wifi off when in public if you don’t want to use airplane mode. That helps some.

      • Cold in the Midwest says:

        How about just leaving your phone in the car outside of the geofence? Is it absolutely necessary to have it ready to hand for the brief period that one is in Costco or Home Depot?

        Does the geofence include the parking lot, or is it when one walks in the door? I don’t like this data tracking stuff. Creepy.

      • Chillbro says:

        Turning off wifi does nothing for tracking. Its by design.

      • Kenny Logoffs says:

        Pretty sure it’s this.

        Turn off WiFi.

        Bluetooth should be ok, but probably best turned off.

        Cellular is ok, but with 5G the very low ranges will probably mean high transmitter density and very fine location determination.
        So cellular will be best turned off soon.

        To be fair on the iPhone the controls for WiFi, Bluetooth and cellular, or airplane mode, are all very easily accessed in a single swipe or so.
        Users just need to be more pro-active in toggling what they do/don’t need to be using.

        Someone could make a lot of money with an app by using your private GPS data to knowingly toggle these settings.
        Ring-fence certain safe zones, white list and black list areas.
        Definitely all wifi and Bluetooth off in shopping areas!

  15. MitchJ says:

    Wow Wolf. Do you really need to stir the paranoia of all the conspiracy theorists with articles like this.? Leave them to looking under the bed for Russian listening devices.

    • crazytown says:

      This article has facts. Phones ARE used to track people, thats not a secret or a conspiracy theory

      • MonkeyBusiness says:

        Nope. We live in the USA, not China. And Edward Snowden is a liar !!!


    • EJ says:

      This is about the most mundane thing our phones do, TBH.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Paranoia is defined as unreasonable fear mj.
      Clearly by this time, anyone and everyone can read in almost all common sense news media around the entire world what communications, etc., the various and sundry ”security services” around the entire world are capable of not only listening to, but recording every byte thereof.
      Discussing this a couple years ago with a friend who was an email manager, one of four so someone was on duty around the clock, 24/7/365, to deal with 60,000 global users of the company’s email network, he said just forget about it, because there was no way out of it if you wanted to have a cell phone.
      Some folks leave their phone turned off, but I have read reports that even so, it can be tracked, and the battery and the SIM card must be removed to prevent tracking. Maybe someone on here can confirm that?
      I leave mine home 24/7, except when driving across country, when I want to be tracked if accident in the wilds of the west where I love to camp out — and hope to do so again asap.

      • EJ says:

        Being completely clean may be impossible, but you can get 70% of the way there with a decent browser + background app control + encrypted chat apps + settings tweaks, and another 20% with a Google-free Android ROM.

        Or go with something more extreme, like a PinePhone.

        I hear this sentiment a lot, and I’m not a fan of it. Phones can be reasonably privacy friendly with, like, 15 minutes of work, yet many users give up and either accept their fate or just stop using the phone where its needed.

    • timbers says:

      Some time ago maybe 10 years or more, someone had an email service that was genuinely encrypted and NSA and other govmit folks could not break it and spy anyone who used it. At least not in a way that would allow them to spy all us peasants all at once.

      Probably many of you already know what happened. The govmit folks shut down his business, for exactly that reason. They were not shy saying why the shut him down, if I recall correctly.

      Very little outrage, too, when he got shut down.

  16. David Hall says:

    I turned off tracking cookies on my iPad and my iPhone.

    I turned off location services on my iPhone 12. Websites do not know where I am or where I go. It makes online shopping a bit more difficult as the websites gave me store ads from stores in a nearby city instead of my home town. I had to type in my zip code to get a store near me.

  17. SN says:

    interesting stuff wolf…do you think placer has something truly proprietary here? they just a series A round of $12mm (no word on valuation) but seems really interesting if this biz can scale. like the article notes, Placer’s demand may come from beyond just landlords and large tenants.

    • Anthony A. says:

      I would envision it being used by law enforcement to track drug deliveries and sales from suspected locations. I wonder if it has the capability of grabbing cell phone numbers while tracking?

  18. EJ says:

    2 Things:

    A: I’m surprised the data is that simple. Why doesn’t Placer connect the geo data to advertising profiles, so they also know *who* is walking through geofenced areas. Also, I see a ton of potential in connecting this data to the in-store customer tracking (with security cameras and such) that many locations already do… perhaps outlets could even sell some data back to Placer, who in turn resells it to 3rd parties?

    B: How accurate is the metadata? How much is being faked? Is it ever tested, or do we just take Placer and their black box AI’s word?

    I suspect we’re living in an age of a growing “data bubble,” where the aggregated tracking data all these companies collect is not as accurate, and therefore not as valuable, as they claim. Regulation, increasing use of sophisticated adblockers, geo spoofing and other privacy aids are bound to taint the data. On top of that, I think younger generations are growing more resistant ads than their predecessors.

  19. Great article Wolf, and I bought an HP12C back in the day (’70’s).

    It was for IRR specifically.


  20. Crush the Peasants! says:

    And that’s why Foot Traffic R Us is a surefire business success. Need to spice up the sales price of your dead retail shoppe? Need to entice unsuspecting tenants to your dead mall? Who you gonna call?

  21. c1ue says:

    Placer sounds good in theory.
    The question in reality is just how accurate their algorithms are.
    in particular – location is still dependent on either GPS or cell tower triangulation.
    Both methods are inherently very inaccurate, particularly indoors or in large vertical cities.
    If the margin of error is 100 meters – how would this affect the perceived value?
    If you look at the actual raw data from GPS chips or cell tower triangulation calculations – the actual locations in a city like SF jump literally all over the place. When the Millenium Tower was built, for example, I was testing a $5000 commercial GPS. Standing at the corner of Mission and Fremont – I watched as the fancy GPS calculated that I was walking in a circle – even as I stood still.
    Even today, there are several dead spots along Market street.
    So forgive me if I am not automatically believing claims of accuracy upon which mighty mountains of assumptions are being built.

    • Kenny Logoffs says:

      Placer will be buying anonymised data from someone I think.

      Probably google.

    • Cambric Finish says:

      Yes, I would like to know more about how this tracking works. I refuse all requests for GPS tracking of my location on my iPhone. I have no apps installed. So exactly how are they tracking me if I am walking through some geofenced area of interest to them and I am not using my cell phone.

  22. Brad Tifman says:

    A letter from the IRS stating that because proximity data indicates that someone has been near Bulgari, Cartier, and Harry Winston stores more than some threshold the previous year, they have been assessed several thousand grift-dollars more in taxes, plus penalties and interest coming in 3..2..

  23. Les Feancis says:

    I’ve been working in retail centre management for years.
    Been using people counters in retail malls for decades. Thermal sensors, cameras all sorts of devices pickup human traffic.

    Cell phone data is just a complimentary sensor.
    Center wifi, individual store Wifi.
    All contribute.

    Our car parks have number plate ID recognition

    600 hi definition security cameras which can distinguish the pimples on your face all with if recognition.

    Everything on line.
    Authorities have access to the information.

  24. Lynn H says:

    Elko Nv.. Saw it on the map while going cross country a few years ago and thought it looked like a good place (distance wise) to stay the night. Oh no. Just nope nope nope. Stopped in 3 stores to buy supplies plus a Burger King or McDonalds. Every single person behind every single counter was high on Meth. Eyes swirling, yelling out to each other, herky jerky, busy-busy. OMG that place is impressive. Worse than Orick, Ca.

    Yep, I got back in my car, locked the doors even, and drove further a few hundred more miles.. I’m not easily scared, but that place was just very special.. It was like a B movie.

    • Lynn H says:

      Oh, any department store there (if there are any) probably gets tons of foot traffic. The same people in and out all day I’d guess.

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