Source: CLSR

In 2015, the Dutch Data Protection Authority ("DPA") investigated the practices of Dutch company Bluetrace B.V. Bluetrace provides Wi-Fi tracking-technology which collects the MAC addresses (Media Access Control address) of devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) of visitors in certain areas via Wi-Fi. Each Wi-Fi function on a device sends out a unique MAC address. Based on the received MAC addresses and the date and time, the Wi-Fi tracking technology determines the location of a device and how many devices are located in a certain area. As such, Bluetrace is able to track the movement of a visitor and the stores he or she visits in the respective area. The purpose of collecting such data is to generate information on the visitor mass and (shopping) behavior of visitors.  Customers of Bluetrace use this information to determine how attractive the location of a store is or to schedule their personnel as efficient as possible.

The  DPA addressed various violations of  data protection and information obligations by Bluetrace and instructed Bluetrace to take measures. Bluetrace made several changes to its systems, such as limiting the storage of collected personal data to 24 hours,  implementing a privacy policy and providing stickers and information brochures on Wi-Fi-tracking. However, the DPA found that the measures taken by Bluetrace were not sufficient. For instance,  the information provided by Bluetrace to visitors was incorrect and incomplete as it did not state that Bluetrace collects personal data or how long these personal data is stored. Furthermore, Bluetrace could not provide a reasonable explanation why it is necessary for Bluetrace to collect data from passersby or residents in the nearby area. The DPA concluded in its decision of 1 September 2016 that Bluetrace was still in violation of the Dutch Data Protection Act.  

The DPA therefore imposed an order subject to penalty (last onder dwangsom), stating that Bluetrace should either stop collecting personal data via Wi-Fi-tracking or take measures to:   

  • avoid collecting personal data from residents in the (nearby) area;
  • encrypt or delete personal data collected from visitors outside stores immediately after collecting such data; and
  • provide visitors inside and outside stores with understandable and visible information on the identity of Bluetrace, the purpose of the collection of personal data,  how long this data is stored and where visitors can obtain further information, before or ultimately at the moment the personal data is collected.  

Bluetrace has six months to comply with the order of the DPA, otherwise the company owes a penalty of EUR 5,000 for each week they have not complied with the order (with a maximum penalty of EUR 100,000). The DPA granted Bluetrace a long period of six months because it considered that most measures are to be implemented on site (i.e. in stores or in the nearby area) which may require permits or approvals from the respective municipalities. As such, the DPA considered a period of six months to be reasonable.  

It is unknown whether Bluetrace has appealed to the decision of the DPA.   

Further information: 

https://autoriteitpersoonsgegevens.nl/sites/default/files/atoms/files/openbare_versie_last_onder_dwangsom_bluetrace_definitief.pdf (only available in Dutch)