The Malls Are Watching

Two malls were recently criticized for watching the shopping habits of their customers, according to a report on CNNMoney.com.

On Black Friday, a mall in Southern California and one in Richmond began tracking the movements of shoppers by monitoring the signals from their cellphones. The malls’ management had planned to continue the tracking until they got calls from the office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was concerned that the tracking was an invasion of privacy. The malls had planned to track shoppers’ movements through New Year’s Day.

“Personal cellphones are just that – personal,” Schumer said at a press conference. “If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so.”

So how does it work?

PC Magazine says the tracking works by installing receivers on walls at the location to be tracked. These devices then track anyone in the vicinity who has a cellphone on. The tracking system can determine which stores attract the most customers. The companies behind the technology say all the information is anonymous and that anyone can immediately opt out by simply turning off their cellphone, PC Magazine reports.

Retailers have increasingly tracked where and how people shop, and consumers have been willing to provide their personal information or telephone numbers so they can receive promotional deals. But this type of tracking without someone’s prior consent is quite different.

“The point is, people kind of freak out when you start tracking their physical location,” writes Keith Wagstaff, a technology reporter for Time’s Techland section. “Information online is abstract; the exact spot where you are standing right now is not. What remains to be seen is whether or not the fear of being tracked will win out over the desire to score good deals.”

This week’s Color of Money question: How would you feel about malls tracking your shopping habits? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “The Malls Are Watching” in the subject line.

My Roof, My Rules

How do you ask your parents to respect your boundaries when you are broke and living in their home?

During an online discussion, a reader asked Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax about establishing financial boundaries with her parents.

“For financial reasons, I’m moving with my toddler back to my parents’ house,” she wrote Hax. “I’m not married and I don’t earn enough in my job to support the two of us right now. These things make me ripe for nagging from my parents, who have every right to do so — after all, they’re letting us live there rent-free.”

Hax says her dependency gives her parents some say. But limits can still be established.

I agree with Hax on this point: The choices this young woman makes to fix her financial situation are fair territory for her parents. They have a right to know and track what she’s doing with her money and at what point she can finally live on her own.

I recently wrote about how some households have become a bit more crowded because adult children, and even parents, are moving in. The key to a happy household with so many grown folks is to set boundaries and agree on certain rules on living arrangements.

If you move in with your parents, other family members or a friend, should they have a right to get into your financial business? Send your response to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “My Roof, My Rules” in the subject line.

Defeating the Debt

On Faith contributor Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite recently blogged about the growing number of college graduates who are borrowing money to finance their education.

“A whole generation of young Americans is at risk in this excessive borrowing,” she says. “They fall further and further behind in ‘servicing their debt’ because they have no way to keep up with the payments, as many of them are unemployed or underemployed.”

She says, “They will delay starting marriage and families; they dare not take the risk of quitting a paying job (if they have one!) and starting their own business to create jobs, and they certainly cannot save to buy a home. They are trapped.”

As I wrote in my column Thursday, the Education Department reported that for fiscal year 2009, the national student-loan default rate increased to 8.8 percent, up from 7 percent in 2008.

Chat Time

Join me today at 11:45 a.m. for my live video chat. And at noon ET, my text chat begins.

My guest will be Clark Howard, author of “Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times: 250-Plus Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter and Save Money.” The book was November’s Color of Money Book Club selection.

Be sure to send your questions in early or read the archives later.

Debt Defeaters

Have you paid off your bills and ready to bring the New Year in with no debt?

Tell me about it.

Send in your Debt Defeater stories to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include the amount of debt you paid off, how long it took and the feeling of being debt-free.

If I read your story during my live video chat, I will send you a “Debt Defeater” T-shirt .

Response to “Black Friday Foolishness”

Black Friday is over, but some of you weighed in on this year’s trend of retailers opening their doors at midnight or earlier.

“I used to love getting up early and going shopping with my daughters on Black Friday,” wrote Shadra Bruce of Bath, N.Y. “It was a fun tradition - when it started at a reasonable 5 a.m. Over the years, though, the stores started opening earlier, the deals really don’t seem that great, and online shopping has made it possible for me to get what I need without leaving the warmth and comfort of my bed. Add to that the ridiculous greed that comes from these retailers choosing profit over offering employees even a single day off with family, and it’s completely turned me off from the entire event.”

Bruce added: “I have decided to do absolutely none of my shopping with retailers who choose to be open on Thanksgiving, including Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Best Buy. Instead, I’m going to shift my holiday shopping money to local businesses in my area that care about their employees and stay closed on Thanksgiving. I might end up spending a little more, but it will be worth it for the satisfaction of not being a part of the mindless corporate greed that has overtaken our country.”

Lynn Zeller of Boise, Idaho wrote: “I never shop on Black Friday. I don’t make my employees work that day, and so I personally boycott people who do. If the retailers are making so much money on Black Friday to subject their employees to customer abuse, then they should pay a premium wage to people who work those days. Those days should also be voluntary. If the retailer doesn’t receive enough volunteers, then the store doesn’t open.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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