/ Technology

Big brother doesn’t know your name – but he’s still watching

Hands holding up binoculars

Ever bought something in a supermarket that you’d rather keep secret – condoms, stacks of booze or certain private medication, maybe? Tough – your secret’s safe with no one and it’s likely to be passed on.

If you have a loyalty card, you expect some loyalty – usually in the form of air miles or money-off vouchers.

What you probably don’t expect is for your shopping list to be scrutinised, married to your spending habits, postcode and other preferences to produce an eerily accurate profile of you.

Who can you trust?

You didn’t tick the box allowing your details to be sold to ‘trusted partner companies’ (i.e. anyone who’ll buy it) and therefore assumed that your relationship with your loyalty card provider would be kept in-house.

But you’d be wrong. Under the Data Protection Act, companies require consent to pass your personal details on to other firms, unless the information is anonymised, in which case it’s fine. And there’s the catch – take your name out of the equation and the rest of your information is fair game.

I think this is wrong, outdated and potentially detrimental. And here’s why.

Companies can produce a profile that is seriously accurate without knowing your name. Let’s face it, if they know where you live (specifically your post code), what you eat, drink, drive, how old you are and so on – who needs a name?

Anonymised information is still personal

They can sell this ‘non-personal’ (albeit extremely detailed) information to target retailers who want your business. And these firms will then base their pricing structures on this information.

So, say you’re a 25 year-old male, living in York city centre. You like a glass of Pinot Grigio with your ready meals and smoke a pack a day.

Sure, you may get a few quid off your shopping bill. But if your information, and others’ with similar profiles, was passed to a private medical insurer (PMI), they may conclude that all 25 year-old males living in York present a higher risk.

Consequently, PMI premiums for these people will rocket. The cost to our York man will probably outstrip the money he gets off his next shop.

Perhaps it’s time to re-think our privacy laws? Maybe the Data Protection Act needs a bit of a tweak to protect anonymised customer data more effectively – or at least require banks and retailers to spell out in greater detail how their data is collected and used. What do you think?

Clark Kent says:
16 February 2011

I have just applied for a Sainsbury’s Nectar credit card. I am worried about the use to which my personal information will be put.

My wife and I mostly do our weekly shop at Tesco and it’s most uncanny the way that we are given money off coupons from time to time for items we have purchased over passed months. This week we were given a money off coupon for a Lex printer cartridge. I have purchased this item in the past but not for a long time, I now no longer use this printer as it as long since given up the ghost. I think it most wrong that my shopping preferences are being kept and most irregular if this information is being handed out willy nilly.

I too shop at Tesco and am sure it is not a coincidence that money off coupons arrive for things I buy regularly. I buy bananas (not organic) and have been sent a coupon for organic bananas but I’m not falling for it. These days there is nothing secret or sacred.

laurernce miller says:
16 February 2011

It’s just another example of the snooping habits of marketeers in the Big Brother society we live in! It’s all done in the guise of ‘service to customers’ and ‘meeting our needs’. Oh Yeah! – it’s done to maximise their mark-up!

Sophie Gilbert says:
17 February 2011

And people are making a fuss about the introduction of ID cards. Meanwhile the elephant in the room is growing bigger and bigger…

I’ve just received a catalogue, from a company that I had never heard of, through the post, with an accompanying welcome letter informing me that ‘Damart’ a clothing company that I sometimes use, had passed on my name to them and had recommended me to them!
I have never given ‘Damart’ permission to pass on my name and address. Why on earth did they do that? Did they get paid? Why risk the agro ?

First rule of shopping in a supermarket: always pay in cash!

the money given back to customers for their points, you don’t really believe the supermarket are going to take a £3 hit on their profits for millions of accounts do you?
the more information you give any business the more it will used to market against you for increased profits.
our shopping habits information, etc, are SOLD to other companies.

ever been told or read that your data is absolutely safe, as it cannot be used for any other purpose? ie, the recent census?
What you are not being told is that “analysis” of the data collected can be and is, sold on for profit!