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Stores Use Discount Cards To Notify Of Recall 404

Posted by michael
from the eat-fewer-twinkies-mr-smith dept.
crazyj writes "USA Today is one of many sources running a story about how some supermarkets used their "discount" shopping cards to notify customers of a beef recall. Interestingly, some stores did not use the information because they felt it violated the customer's privacy. I always use a fake name and address when I sign up for those, but do others feel that the stores were justified in 'violating' their privacy agreement?"
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Stores Use Discount Cards To Notify Of Recall

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  • is it invasion? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by olorinpc (729849) <jake@nOspaM.supergeekblog.com> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:00AM (#8073512) Homepage
    Is it really invasion if the store where they signed up for this card notifies them of various things?
  • by ajagci (737734) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:00AM (#8073514)
    The violation of privacy is that they collect and keep the personal information in the first place. Not using it to help consumers is then just a way of avoiding bad publicity and demonstrating to their customers that they actually have the data and can contact them. I.e., the concern is a PR concern, not a legal one. (Most likely, their agreement says that they can change it at any time anyway.)
  • Should be opt-in (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BobaFett (93158) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:02AM (#8073522) Homepage
    When I sign up for a supermarket card, I should be able to check a box which says "contact me if I bought a product under recall". Then they can call me or send me a postcard.
  • I think... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@@@gmail...com> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:04AM (#8073528) Homepage Journal
    ...it's perfectly fine. You voluntarily gave your contact information to establish a beneficial business relationship with your store. They already use that info to target you with coupons and special offers, so why shouldn't they use it to warn you of major health concerns?

    If I receive a form letter in the mail saying "Such and such beef is tainted, please check your package before eating. If you are concerned, return the beef to the store for a free refund", I'm not going to think, "Those f***ers used my personal info to send me a form letter!" I'm actually going to go check my beef and hope like hell I haven't eaten it yet. I probably wouldn't give a second thought as to why or how I got the letter. It is sufficient that I received it and was properly warned.

  • by Ray Radlein (711289) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:04AM (#8073529) Homepage
    In terms of justification, I must admit that "By the way, we thought you might like to avoid an agonizing death" is a somewhat better reason to invade my privacy than "Here's a coupon for 50 cents off your next purchase of adult incontinence control products."

  • Let's see... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) * on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:04AM (#8073530)
    Die miserable painful death from bovine spongiform encephalopathy... or have my privacy invaded. For once, I think the invasion is justified. When it comes to my health and well-being, I'd prefer they let me know - my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness definitely trumps whatever the hell I said when I signed up for that grocery store card.
  • by jamonterrell (517500) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:05AM (#8073535)
    I think the first thing you have to acknowledge is that the warning that you could have received tainted (mad cow) beef is more important than being trivially bothered with a notification of such. As long as the information was only used for this purpose, and the whole scenario is clearly documented and an explanation was sent with the notification, I see no problem with it. It's sometimes necessary to remove one's tin foil hat from their covering their eyes.

    Jamon
  • thin line (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SinaSa (709393) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:05AM (#8073536) Homepage
    I think there is a thin line you cross between invading privacy and simple concern for your customers. As far as I can tell in this case, the supermarkets are merely looking out for their customers health. It is cheaper for them to only the mention the recall information at the store than sending letters out to hundreds of customers.
    I don't really see this as crossing that line.
  • by plover (150551) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:08AM (#8073551) Homepage Journal
    By signing up for the card, you are voluntarily giving them this info. You are giving it up. You wrote your name and address on the application. There should be no expectation of privacy between you and the store.

    The only reasonable expectation of privacy you should have with the card would be that the store would not give or sell their mailing list to others. That's the only gray area I can see with these cards. But in this particular case, the store itself contacted the customers because of meat they bought in the store. There is no third-party involvement. Thus, there was no breach of privacy.

  • Choices (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lakmiseiru (635364) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:09AM (#8073558) Journal
    Well, when it comes down to it, you have two options:
    1. Fill in a fake name and address on the card, and don't worry about being contacted.
    2. Fill in your real name and address on the card, and get warnings such as this one.
    The form I filled out for my supermarket card had the usual "Check this box if you do not wish your name and information given out to qualified vendors, etc," but lacked a "Please do not contact me with further offers" box. However, I have yet to receive any mail from said business, including flyers.

    Truthfully, if they have your address, it was your decision, and you should be happy you received the warning. If they don't, that's just the price you pay for privacy. I'm certain somebody in the office or the neighborhood got the warning and would be perfectly willing to alert you in the future.
  • by plover (150551) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:11AM (#8073562) Homepage Journal
    I wouldn't know, I shop at a store that advertises that they don't play those stupid card games. Even if it wasn't the closest grocery store to me, I'd shop there for that reason alone.
  • by frob2600 (309047) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:12AM (#8073566)
    Dude, the Albertsons in my area makes you display a driver's license when you fill one of those out. I was going to fill one out but when they demanded my ID I had second thoughts and decided to take my business elsewhere.

    I know it is dumb, but I am so tired of every move I make being tracked.
  • by DeepDarkSky (111382) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:16AM (#8073585)
    No, there is no violation of privacy, since you have to give up that information VOLUNTARILY if you wanted the discount card in the first place. Violation of privacy implies that it is being done against your will or without your knowledge.

    And in this case, since they 'OWN' the data (that's right, you gave it to them, it's theirs now), and they are not selling it or giving it away to other parties, it is hardly a violation of privacy.

    If you give false information, well, that's your problem.

  • Simply sending a message to the owner of the card doesn't qualify as an invasion of privacy in my book. It would be a violation of privacy had these stores sent people's address information to a third party, but they didn't do that. Privacy means, "Keep my information confidential." It doesn't mean, "Never contact me."
  • by LlamaRama (561817) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:22AM (#8073602)
    i worked as a checker-bot for a year at a local grocery chain, and i can safely say that maybe only a fraction of a percent of shoppers appreciate those stupid ass cards. i actively encouraged customers to just lie on the applications, and often if they were complaining i would just hand them a card and throw away the accompanying application. i think it is definitely an invasion of privacy if they are tracking what you are buying for any reason, and it is way beyond what they should be allowed to do.
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by questamor (653018) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:25AM (#8073608)
    Is it really invasion if the store where they signed up for this card notifies them of various things?

    I don't think so. Honestly, if I'd bought what was, say, 100% certain BSE infected beef that WOULD kill me by a slow horrific painful death, and the supermarket only had my name, and they then used the phone book, online tracking agencies, a private investigator or phoning my relatives to get hold of me, I would be fucking glad.

    I'd be pissed at the situation, but this is something that'd save my life.

    What next, five people asleep in a burning house and firemen must phone twice and knock before entering? There's points where the line of privacy can and should be crossed, I see this as one of them
  • Your Club Savings (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nacturation (646836) <nacturation@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:30AM (#8073627) Journal
    This Week's Club Specials:

    Red Peppers:
    Regular Price: $12.95/lb
    Your Club Price: $.95/lb
    You Save: $12.00/lb !!

    Toilet Paper:
    Regular Price: $172.99 for 12 rolls
    Your Club Price: $2.99 for 12 rolls
    You Save: $170.00 !!

    The Sham Store -- see how much you save by shopping here?
  • Re:Let's see... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by targo (409974) <targo_t@ho[ ]il.com ['tma' in gap]> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:32AM (#8073634) Homepage
    Die miserable painful death from bovine spongiform encephalopathy... or have my privacy invaded.

    Or, die a miserable painful death caused by a terrorist act... or have your privacy invaded. At least following the government logic.
    Both of these events have ridiculously low probabilities (mad cow being somewhat lower in my opinion) but somehow one is OK and the other isn't? Although I guess that most people think both are OK.
    It always amazes me how easily people lose any common sense when whipped up by sensationalism and fearmongering (compare with the ridiculous hassles that people have to put up with because of terrorism fears). Have some perspective, for God's sake. Thousands of people die in traffic accidents all the time but no one thinks it's OK for traffic cops to search me every time when I drive (compare to airports) or come to my home to lecture me about traffic dangers (compare to this article).
  • by andreMA (643885) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:33AM (#8073639)
    Remember that cluster of e. coli cases in Pennsylvania last year? Contaminated green onions from Mexico supplied to a restaurant chain, but could have just as easily been supplied to a supermarket.
  • by rbrome (175029) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:34AM (#8073641) Homepage
    If I voluntarily hand over my real contact information (customer-initiated opt-in) to a business, I would EXPECT them to notify me of product recalls, regardless of their privacy policy. I would be upset if they didn't.

    Things aren't recalled just because they don't work - they are recalled for safety reasons. Recalls are always bad publicity, so no cpmpany in their right mind does one unless they are directed by the government, or feel they will be soon.
  • by blackwizard (62282) * on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:35AM (#8073642)
    ... that is, if, and only if they do everything at their disposal to contant you immediately about the situation. I, for one, welcome our new supermarket-management overlords. *ducks*

    Seriously, though, I think I'll take a very Kant-like view on this (if I remember my Philosophy class correctly). I'll argue that since the supermarkets have this information at their disposal, it is their duty to notify their customers. The article quotes Katherine Albrecht, the founder of an organization called the the "Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering", as saying "Sure it would be useful to have someone contact me if I bought something tainted, but at what cost? A total food-supply surveillance network?" The fatal flaw in this argument is that the supermarkets already have what she calls the "A total food-supply surveillance network". That's why you get the discounts; they are paying you for this data. Now, since they have this data, they can save your life by calling you on the phone and telling you not to eat a piece of meat you bought at their store. I believe that the ethical use of this customer data demands that at the very least they give you a call on the phone, and/or do whatever it takes to inform you that the product they sold you may put your life in danger.

    Not that it would have helped me. I put a false name and number on the form when I signed up for my supermarket discount card(s). (Not that they care, as this still probably generates useful demographic data of some kind for them.) Good thing I don't eat meat.
  • by tuxedobob (582913) <tuxedobob@[ ].com ['mac' in gap]> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:38AM (#8073652)
    Dear Valued Customer,

    Our records show that on 1/6/04 you purchased 2.5 pounds of beef at our store in Seattle. It has come to our attention that this beef may have come from a suspect supplier, and there's a chance it may have mad cow disease. You are welcome to return your purchase to the store for store credit, whereupon it will be destroyed.

    We obtained your contact information from your "frequent shopper" card. If you feel this is a violation of privacy, please disregard this notice.

    Signed,

    Some Supermarket Chain
  • by out_to_lunch (596942) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:42AM (#8073666)
    Having rtfm - unusual for /. I know - this is a complex example that neatly encapsulates the privacy dilemma.

    QFC supermarkets posted a sign saying concerned shoppers could call to find out if they had bought suspect meat via their id.

    Then, if and only if the customer called, QFC only told the shopper. Not any third parties.

    I wouldn't want to catch the gruesome mad cow disease, so full ethical marks to QFC for offering customers an informed opportunity to consent.

    As interesting are the dogs that didn't bark, bureaucracies hiding behind a privacy comfort blanket: giant Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons chains said they have no plans to take such a step. Perish the thought - publicise they have poisoned me ?

    Katherine Albrecht, founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, hit the nail on the head at the end of the story. rtfm.

  • by abertoll (460221) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:42AM (#8073668) Homepage Journal
    The point isn't that the store has your name and address. That isn't what the privacy issue is about. You gave them that information, of course they know! The issue is about the store tracking what you buy. Signing a card for discounts isn't an acknowledgement that they will be tracking your purchases. In fact, they don't need this at all. You're in their store, and they can watch what you buy if they like. I mean they've always done this with credit card numbers.

    Is it an invasion of privacy because the bar tender remembers what drink you ordered last time? Isn't it the same thing?
  • by DarkHelmet (120004) <mark AT seventhcycle DOT net> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:47AM (#8073693) Homepage
    To state the everlasting argument:

    Law always is a weight between the Civil Liberties of an individual versus the safety of the public.

    There are many scenarios where Civil Liberties being violated may or may not be justified:

    1. There's an airborn infection within an area, andromeda strain or Outbreak style. Here, does the liberties of confining one to his/her house outweigh the possibility of an entire nation or race being wiped out?
    2. There is an invasion from another country, and civilians are ordered to be searched / confined, and quartered. Does the imminent threat call for the curtailing of civil liberties?

    To me, this is nowhere as serious and imminent a threat, as Mad Cow can't be transmitted from person to person (last I remember). Still, a customer has a right to know whether he or she may have bought infected meat. This right to know outweighs the loss of privacy that is at hand.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:58AM (#8073719)
    Considering my chances of contracting the human form of BCE (when there is no proof the disease is communicable to humans-much less communicable through muscle tissue-and there are under 500 known cases of the human form of the disease WORLD WIDE) are essentially nil, I think it's a case of mass stupidity.

    If they're not supposed to be keeping this kind of info, I don't suddenly want to find out they ARE keeping it after all. Really, though, I cannot for the life of me believe that they promised not to keep the info. Surely they'd realise it would leave them wide open for a privacy lawsuit if it ever came to light they were violating their customers' privacy.
  • JUST SAY NO! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fred911 (83970) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:06AM (#8073744)
    Loyalty cards, membership cards.. whatever they care to call them. JUST SAY NO!

    For christ sakes, at least credit card issuers are required to provide a privacy statment to it's clients allowing them to opt out. Isn't that envasive enough?

    I NEVER use ANY loyalty card. Ever. If they want to profile me (or my statistical type) they can PAY me. Not visa versa. And a "discount" doesn't fuqin count!

    When they first started the 2 tier pricing, I'd check out.

    Cashier: Got your bonus card
    buyer: no, scan the store card (they never hear that)
    Cashier: your total is XXXX
    Buyer: let me ask you.. do you get paid more when you charge more?
    cashier: ?????
    buyer: then why the @#*( wouldn't you apply the discount all the time?
    cashier: ???????

    They don't get it. Here's the deal.. NEVER PARTICIPATE. You gain NOTHING?

    Here's the moral I wish more people grocked:

    If you want to profile me you can PAY ME.

    You don't pay me with a discount, cause I won't buy without one.

    I've never been refused a discount due to the fact I dont have a profile account.
    I can't beleive how stupid the consumer is.

  • From the story: "I always use a fake name and address when I sign up for those...".

    This only makes a difference if you NEVER use a credit card. If you use a credit card once, they have your true name and address, and they associate it with the discount card.
  • by linux11 (449315) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:50AM (#8073854)
    The invasion of privacy is having a "pre-approved" credit card sent to the address I provided for get discounts on food, that is what I consider an invasion of privacy. What they seem to be saying is that it is ok to invade my privacy when it is done in the name of American Express. But when they have to identify themselves directly for the purpose of saving my life instead of the indirect invasion of junk mail... well, then that is just too much invasion for their taste. Or, put another way, too much trouble. After all, the current system of let them figure out it is tainted on their own is "working fine."

    And, btw, shortly after applying for a store preferred card, I got both the preferred card and an American Express pre-approved card with the same exact typo in my name. I guess it goes to the bottom line, they get money from American Express and they don't get any additional money for warning me. They also seem to bank on that I won't put two and two together that the American Express offer is related to the preferred card. If they can pro-actively sign me up for credit, then they really damn well better be able to pro-actively call me about a recall. I hope that the CEO of a food chain gets charged with murder due to criminal negligence during one of these cases. Then we will see if they consider the current system to be "working."
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alsee (515537) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @05:10AM (#8073899) Homepage
    There's points where the line of privacy can and should be crossed

    It's a total red herring even even talking about privacy issues in this case. The stores have already compiled all of this information on their customers. If it is a privacy problem then it is ALREADY a privacy problem. If there's nothing wrong with what they are already doing then using the data to benefit their customers certainly does not turn it into a problem.

    It's pure Public Relations. As far as they are concerned avoiding "privacy problem" means keeping it hidden to avoid a problem of people complaining what they were already doing. They simply don't want anyone noticing/thinking-about what they already do.

    -
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @05:20AM (#8073921) Journal
    By signing up for the card, you are voluntarily giving them this info. You are giving it up.

    But, for what purpose? If they truly OWN the data, they could sell it, right? They could publish it, right? They could give your number to vendors of missile parts and child pornography, right?

    Wrong.

    Personal information is never truly owned by anybody other than the person detailed. Otherwise, there would not be so many laws regarding the sale, transfer, and maintenance of such data. There will likely be more laws regarding this in the future, not less.

    Sorry, bud. I sign my name on a Safeway application, I'm giving it to Safeway. Unless it's explicity on the paper I sign, my signature doesn't then give Safeway the right to do whatever they please with my personal information.

    Remember, it's information. Information can be licensed, and is usually transferred under some kind of contract or agreement.

    You can't take your WinXP CD, make copies, and sell them. Neither can you take my personal info, make copies and sell it, either.
  • by Nkwe (604125) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @05:27AM (#8073932)
    This only makes a difference if you NEVER use a credit card

    Or you can get a credit card that has the same fake name as you used on on your discount card. I did this and they still thank me for shopping and use the fake name whether I pay via cash or credit card. Works like a champ.

  • by Alsee (515537) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @05:54AM (#8073972) Homepage
    Dear Supermarket Chain Middle Managment,

    Thank you for your draft letter, but we have already considered the issue and chosen an alternate course of action.

    By not sending a letter at all we avoid consumers returning their purchases and the expense of giving away store credit. We avoid the need to destroy product. We maintain high levels of consumer confidence and trust in our brand.

    We can disregard consumers feeling we violated their privacy because they will not notice.

    Yours Truely,
    Supermarket Chain Upper Managment

    -
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by root:DavidOgg (133514) <ogg_david.hotmail@com> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @06:16AM (#8074027) Homepage
    Telemarketing and Fax have nothing to do with this. I think you people just like to bitch.
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doug Neal (195160) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @07:26AM (#8074214)
    I may have given my name to a store, but that does NOT give them the right to contact me for ANYTHING unless I give my explicit permission to.

    But I bet you'd be the first to sue if you ate some of the beef and subsequently found out about this, "as is your right" of course.
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wlj (204164) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @10:28AM (#8074662)
    I think this is where is crosses the line.

    When a supplier believes there is a problem with what they supply, they have a responsibility to make that problem (real or suspected) known. Re-calls and news stories spread the information but scare the timid and don't always reach those who need the information. As has been said in this thread, if you gave them correct conact information, IN THIS CASE I (personally) would be comfortable with them telling ME (the purchasor) about the issue.

    Telling ANY third party what I bought - NO!!!
  • Re:Let's see... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) * on Saturday January 24, 2004 @11:26AM (#8074846)
    Okay, what is the probability of developing vCJD based on exposure to BSE protein in contaminated meat? Clearly you know something I don't know, since you saying it is equivalent to the probability of dying in a terrorist act.


    A better analogy might be the probability of dying in a terrorist attack GIVEN that you are in Manhattan and there is a bomb located somewhere in the city. Sure, it's a small probability, but you'd be pretty pissed if the city decided not to tell you because they didn't want to bother you.

  • by Simonetta (207550) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @11:42AM (#8074914)
    I'm always considered the possibility that in twenty or thirty years from now when the USA Medicaid program is bankrupt, that the data gathered from these supermarket cards will be used as a justification to deny medical benefits to people. Whent the system is broke, the administrators have to do something to ration what few medical benefits that will remain and food purchase data seems the best reason because they can blame it all on the users.

    "I sorry ma'am but your request for perscription drug benefits has been denied because our records show that for ten years between 2000 and 2010 you consumed an average of 0.5 kilos of beef a week. Your present medical condition is a result of your own negligence."

    This would seem absurd except for the fact that the government is using twenty year old marijuana misdemonor convictions to deny current benefits like housing assistance and graduate student loans presently.
    Before you tell me how absurd and paranoid I am, remember that people would have labeled paranoid anyone who said twenty years ago that everybody would have to pee in a bottle to test for heroin in order to get a simple job like selling shoes.

    It's probably a good idea to keep out of corporate data bases as much as possible because unknown people can simply and arbitrarily destroy your life on a whim by using this data. This can be done either by delibrate malicious intent by identity thieves and zealous prosecutors or just corporate mandate.

    Millions of jobs are disappearing in the US due to bad political and corporate decisions. Any justification to pin the blame on the worker themselves will be eagerly sought out and used against them. Expect this type of data mining for blame-the-victim tactics to increase in the future in the USA.
  • by Simonetta (207550) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @12:02PM (#8075047)
    "I sorry ma'am but your request for perscription drug benefits has been denied because our records show that for ten years between 2000 and 2010 you consumed an average of 0.5 kilos of beef a week. Your present medical condition is a result of your own negligence."

    It also might be a good idea, as our liberatarian friends like to remind us, to actually start taking better care of our health and to recognize our own resposibility for our future medical conditions. Maybe that second hambuger and third beer isn't such a good idea if there is going to be no Medicare for us in the future.

    We should also start accepting the idea that the giant social, medical, and pension programs that we paid into all our lives will be gone by the time that we are old enough to need them. All them money that we put into these programs is being pissed away now to give the 'greatest generation' $80,000 hip replacements when they are 85 years old, or is being secretly looted to support the giant US government federal deficits incurred by cutting taxes while at the same time creating huge expensive endless wars.

    Also the social climate among the young is changing. Anyone who tattoos their face and puts metal bolts into their body for cosmetic reasons when they are twenty can not seriously be expected to voluntarily support programs to assist the aged and disabled when they are fifty. Call me a bigot, but this just seems to be a realistic observation.
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zeinfeld (263942) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @12:37PM (#8075206) Homepage
    Invasion of privacy? Well, only if you consider that they looked to see what you bought...but since you're volunteering to use the card, and volunteering to use correct contact information, I'd have to say no. Plus, they do see you when you check out, so it's not like you're keeping secrets anyway

    You are all missing the issue here. The whole purpose of those cards is to invade privacy. They sell the demographic data to advertisers. The point is NOT to protect privacy it is to avoid making people aware that thier privacy is being violated.

    People might stop using the cards and the scam would stop working.

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