Could your shopping list be used against you?
Think about all the information that can be gleaned from the loyalty card you use at the supermarket. Your purchases reveal the usual demographics like age, income, and how many children and pets you live with. Marketers factor in your likes and dislikes to build profiles that they name things like Winner’s Circle, Kids & Cul-de-Sacs, and Big City Blend, and use the profiles to figure product pitches and advertising, and maybe do a little tinkering with the prices you see at the register. You know it’s invasive, the profiling might rub you the wrong way, but you figure that’s the price you pay for the card discounts.
It doesn’t stop there.
Privacy advocates and consumer groups are concerned about third-party sharing of loyalty card data. The number of incidents is small but disconcerting, and the potential for abuse is deeply troubling.
- The DEA has subpoenaed data from customer databases to discover whether individuals were buying large quantities of plastic baggies that could be used for drug transactions.
- A supermarket sought to use a customer’s history of alcohol purchases to evade a ‘slip-and-fall’ injury settlement.
- Grocery lists with the combination of bleach, charcoal, and the Middle Eastern treat of hummus can trigger an FBI algorithm that turns shoppers into suspected terrorists.
Supermarkets have also been known to issue cards embedded undisclosed RFID remote tracking chips, and a number of stores have subcontracted out the data entry function to firms that employ prisoners, giving convicted rapists and burglars access to your personal information. The push toward the use of mobile devices as ‘digital wallets’ and apps that consolidate all your loyalty cards into one big heap of accessible data will only increase the exposure.
Think of the implications. Your junk food purchases could become evidence of poor parenting in a child custody battle or your health insurance premiums could rise because you buy too much butter. Purchases that speak to religion and ethnicity, medical conditions and sexual activity—the diet pills, gefilte fish, Twinkies, condoms, and hemorrhoid cream—it’s all on a card.
How many loyalty card tags are dangling from your keyring?
Gigabiting: where food meets culture and technology.
More from living