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Shop Here Often? Gadget Will Tell Business Owners

Consumers are used to having their movements tracked online. But in a brick-and-mortar store?

That is the idea behind Density, a new app-and-gadget combo available for pre-order that gives businesses a real-time measure of their foot traffic.

Let’s say you own a café. You plug a device that is “about the size of a deck of cards” into an electrical outlet and it will start immediately counting every person who has their Wi-Fi turned on.

That information is sent to an iOS app, where brick-and-mortar retail owners can do something that their online competitors have been doing for years: tracking how many people visit them. (Density co-founder Andrew Farah, speaking at the Launch Festival in San Francisco earlier this week, referred to customers as "uniques.") If enough businesses use it, eventually they might be able to see if their customers are heading to their competitors.

It all seems extremely useful for merchants, if they are willing to pay the $50 monthly subscription, which includes the cost of the device. They could get feedback on when their employees should be working, how quickly their business is growing and where their customers are coming from.

The problem, of course, is that customers might object to being tracked. Farah said that all of the customer data would be anonymous. Also, people who have their phone or Wi-Fi turned off can't be detected. Still, the program is able to tell one visitor from another, which could make people nervous.

"The reason we went after local businesses first is because they have good faith relationships with their customers," he told the audience at Launch. "If I know that I’m helping a small business by sharing my movements, I’m kind of all for that as a resident."