It’s that shopping time of year again and we are in the midst of a pandemic, so some of us are shopping differently than in the past. Curbside pickup is an option that has become more popular and for good reason. It’s quick, easy, and contactless. You shop online on a mobile application, you drive up to the store, and a store employee is waiting in the designated parking area with your items. But how does this technology really work and is there anything you need to know from a privacy standpoint?

The process starts when you place your order online using your computer or the retailer’s mobile application on your phone. The mobile application also may have an option for you to tell the store that you are on your way. You click on that option on the mobile application and tell the store that you are on your way. When you arrive to pick up your order, a store employee is ready and waiting to place your items in the trunk of your car. How did the store employee know you were in the parking lot without you telling them?

The retailer is likely to be using a technology called geofencing. Geofencing creates a virtual geographic boundary that allows the retailer to know if a mobile device has entered a particular area. This provides real-time location data, enabling store employees to know precisely when you arrive in their parking lot. When you downloaded the application and accepted the privacy policy and terms of use for the mobile application, you also likely enabled location services on your phone for that application. Geofencing technology allows the retailer to track your location down to the minute that you arrived for your curbside pickup.

Privacy policies often are something we click on quickly, having little or no time or patience to read the details that describe how our personal information is collected and how it is used. A retailer that is able to track your location and knows when you arrive in their parking lot is likely to have a privacy policy that states that it shares your device’s mobile location information with its websites and mobile applications. This location sharing also will allow that mobile application to find the store nearest to your location, and even to find products for you while you are shopping.

For curbside pickup, however, your mobile location may be used to track at least a portion of your trip to the store until that exact moment you arrive in the parking lot, so the store employee knows precisely when you arrive to pick up your items. For some, sharing your mobile phone location in this fashion is worth the convenience of a quick, contactless curbside pickup. If this is a little too much sharing for you, you can disable location services in your phone for that mobile application after using the application.