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Stores Use Discount Cards To Notify Of Recall 404

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@su[ ] ['per' in gap]> 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?
    • Re:is it invasion? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Cali Thalen ( 627449 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:08AM (#8073553) 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.

      Now, is it a violation of their privacy agreement? Not having read it, it's hard to say. However, have you ever read one that says 'we promise never ever to contact you about anything'? Seems rather unlikely doesn't it?

      • 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 )
        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 tha

    • 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
      • Re:is it invasion? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ron_ivi ( 607351 )
        In fact, they could take this to your health professional or insurance company to make sure you get the care you need!

        Or is that going too far? It might save lives, though...

        • Re:is it invasion? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wlj ( 204164 )
          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 part
      • Re:is it invasion? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Frymaster ( 171343 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:26AM (#8073788) Homepage Journal
        I'd be pissed at the situation, but this is something that'd save my life.

        i'd be pissed that the supermarket didn't bother to do some basic research on the whole bse thang.

        it's all in the fda faq [] on bse. especially these gems:

        all the organs in which infectious prions occur were removed at slaughter and did not enter the food supply. Muscle meat is not a source of infectious prions....None of this material left the control of the companies and entered commercial distribution.

        you know how many cases of bse have been identified in humans? 155. worldwide. you know how many of those were in the united states? one. and you know how that woman got vcjd (human bse)? by eating organ meat... in britain.

        we'd save more lives if the ama decided to call everyone on their membership list to tell them not to drive.

        can you believe that me, the raging vegan, is saying this? what's this world coming to...

        • Re: is it invasion? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by bezuwork's friend ( 589226 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @05:51AM (#8073968)
          all the organs in which infectious prions occur were removed at slaughter and did not enter the food supply. Muscle meat is not a source of infectious prions....None of this material left the control of the companies and entered commercial distribution.

          I hate this quote. I heard something similar on an interview with a government representative discussing the matter after the contamination was found.

          The problem is, I recently read Fast Food Nation. That book discusses slaughterhouse conditions. It has descriptions of how intestines and other organs can get burst by cutting instruments and how organ matter can get splat on other carcasses in the vacinity. With all the self-regulation permitted under the law today, I don't trust the slaughterhouses to (a) even know if the contaminated carcass had it's organs improperly cut/splattered and (b) to report this if they did know.

      • Do you have your Shopper's Card today?

        {Card scanned}

        We are glad to see you well. Have you eaten any of the beef you bought last week?

        CUSTOMER: Um, yes. At dinner last night. Was good.

        {Pushing red button alerting 911}

        We would like to inform you that the beef you bought last week has a 90% chance of making you very ill and a 23% chance of killing you. We are providing an ambulance to the hospital as a free service. We'll move your cart to the freezer so you can recover it if you survive. Thank you f
      • 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.

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

        Hmm... I can see it now...

        "Viagra!!! It could save your LIFE!!!"
    • Your Club Savings (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nacturation ( 646836 )
      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?
  • 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.)
    • 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.
      • False information doesn't matter. Account X buys item Y, Z, B and A. Account X does this M times at this time of day, spends x on this day, spends y on this day and time..ect. By allowing them to open an account for a database you use, you have been profiled. You have provided information without compensation. JUST SAY NO. USE THE STORE ACCOUNT. Be an asshole. Make everyone wait till they provide you with the posted discount.

        'nuf said.
        • by afidel ( 530433 )
          Better yet if you are totally anti-establishment is to figure out what encoding they are using for their barcodes and what range of accounts are valid. Then print out a new code on a sticker each week with a different account number and affix it to your card. This way you are poluting their database such that their corelations get messed up. If enough people did this you could seriously undermine the usefulness of the database =)
    • The violation of privacy is that they collect and keep the personal information in the first place.

      Sorry, but it's no invasion of privacy if the customer gives their contact information to the supermarket voluntarily. If you don't want them to have your contact info, then don't give it to them, and vote with your feet by taking your business elsewhere.

    • Once you use the store card, they already know what you purchased. Notifying a customer doesn't violate any privacy unless they use a third party to print the notices.

      If you gave me your email password, you should already assume that I can see whatever messages you have received. If I choose to use the information I saw in your email to warn you about something (without disclosing anything to a third party), the fact that I give you that warning isn't a violation of your privacy.
    • 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 judicar ( 726669 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:02AM (#8073521)
    1.) You die horrible death.
    2.) You're privacy is infringed on.

    pick one.

    • hehe indeed,

      there are some reasonable uses of customer information. I believe a recall is one of those.
    • That's over simplification to the extreme.... Nobody would argue against picking option #1 in your scenario, but we're really just debating the proper way for stores to handle their discount cards here.

      What I think would make sense is for the store to give you the ability to select whether you'd like to be notified of product recalls via your discount card signup information at the time you apply for the card. (Existing cardholders should be given a method to select their preference too.)

      There are plent
    • Re:Well lets see... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kfg ( 145172 )
      Yes, that's one way of looking at it.

      But let's move a little closer to the actual case:

      1) You aren't actually known to have purchased infected beef.
      2) Said beef isn't actually known to have any deleterious effects on humans even if consumed.
      3) Because even if it is harmful the odds are literally millions to one.

      Nudges things a smidge closer to the grey zone, no?

      Being saved from certain death might be one thing, but being "saved" from everything on the order of the risk in this case is rather another.

  • 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.
    • by penguinstorm ( 575341 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:11AM (#8073561) Homepage
      Perhaps there should also be a check box that says:

      "Contact me if I buy too many products with trans-fatty acids",

      "Contact my doctor if I buy too many Tylenol pills", or

      "Contact my mother if I don't buy enough vegetables."
      • How about:
        • Contact my health insurance company if I do *NOT* buy cheetos, etc. -- I might be eligible for a discount.
        This example seems to follow the same principal as the savings card to begin with -- opt in to get a discount, but some fear of using the privacy-invasion to raise the prices for others.

    • You tend not to notice it, but the card actually does have such a checkbox. It's checked by default. You have to uncheck it if you don't want to be notified.

      Also, the store periodically updates its systems in order to serve you better, and resets your preferences.
  • by plover ( 150551 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:03AM (#8073527) Homepage Journal
    The "frequent shopper" cards are no more than an undisguised marketing tool. You should expect no privacy, since you are, in fact, giving up your privacy in exchange for a few cents off.

    Given that there is no moral reason for them not to contact the purchasers of the tainted beef, they would have been held liable had they not used every means at their disposal to contact the purchasers.

    • Agreed. They are certainly ethically responsible to make every attempt to notify the customer they they have a potentially dangerous product. The legality of them not doing so and someone dieing would be crippling.

      I imagine the court room appearance would go something like:

      Lawyer: So, you knew there was a chance that the food was contaminated?
      Supermarket: Yes, but the chance of someone getting sick was so small......
      Lawyer: Yes or no
      Supermarket: Yes
      Lawyer: And you had an available means to attempt conta
      • that's not a court case I would want to be involved in :)

        Unless of course you're a lawyer for the plaintiff working on a pure contingency basis, in which case you can start shopping around for that summer home on the beach :)

  • I think... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:04AM (#8073528) Homepage Journal'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.
    • Re:Let's see... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by targo ( 409974 ) <> 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).
      • Re:Let's see... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) *
        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 bot

    • This BSD crap is going too far. We might know what causes it (these protein fragments labeled 'prions'), but then again, we're not really sure. Prions could be a symptom, not a cause (though they are more than likely the culprit thus far). The only way to find out if someone has this is either wait for them to start exibiting symptoms and make an educated guess, but the only true way to know is to kill them and analyze the brain and spinal tissue. We also know that the incubation period is probably some
      • This BSD crap is going too far. We might know what causes it (these protein fragments labeled 'prions'), but then again, we're not really sure.

        Dude, BSD is dying, hadn't you heard? This BSD crap won't be going on for too much...

        Oh wait, you weren't talking about kernels, were you?

  • by radicalskeptic ( 644346 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {enotirt}> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:04AM (#8073531)
    I'm not the only one who uses fake information on some of these cards, am I?

    Does this mean Monday my cat's going to get a call from Safeway?
    • I always do. I imagine Bilbo Baggins at 123 Main St gets an awful lot of junk mail.
    • Re:Fake Information (Score:3, Interesting)

      by joe_bruin ( 266648 )
      fake information?
      do you use a credit card when paying for your groceries? in the same transaction that you swiped your "savings card"? well, then they already have your name and address. they now know all the things you've bought and paid for in cash, since they can correlate that card with your credit card from previous or future transactions. they know which stores you go to at what time of the day, which credit cards you use, and every single thing you buy. they know who your girlfriend is (yes i kn
      • This is precisely why it's fun to switch cards with random strangers and imagine the confusion when a healthy eating family of four suddenly turns into a single guy who only eats tofu.
  • 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.

  • thin line (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SinaSa ( 709393 )
    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.
    • I have been using a discount card for awhile, there is no reason not to pick a store and stick with them and enjoy the savings. With a family of 6+ the food savings alone is a few hundred a year. The only information I gave them was my address and phone number, already things that people can lookup, google search, or buy.

      What privacy issues are you guys talking about? Them calling you? Out of all the phone calls I get, one telling me about problem with a product I bought doest seem to be a privacy issue.
  • One of our local supermarkets changed it's name and had a big facelift , with the result of raising prices across the board and SURPRISE ! Introducing a customer card that replaces coupons with swiping your card.

    I don't think I'm getting anything in exchange for my information, since they raised prices at the same time they did this. So as far as they know , I'm a black mother of two.

  • I believe that for reasons such as public health, using readily accessible information to provide valuable notifications to those who need it should not only be done every once in a while, but should be routine.

    The only thing I fear is a slippery slope...a few months from now, it's not just tainted meat or a toy recall, but a sale on your favorite brand of foot fungicide.

    One solution would be a simple declaration of accepted usages for customer cards upon signup. For example,

    [ ] I want to receive promoti
  • 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.
  • BUT!!! (Score:2, Funny)

    But I ate that last night....
  • read the fine print (Score:4, Informative)

    by six11 ( 579 ) <> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:13AM (#8073574) Homepage
    When you sign up for one of those things, there's always fine print saying what they can and can't do regarding your information. This isn't rocket science--rtfm [] and your questions will be answered. Safeway (to pick the grocery store that I tend to go to) states:
    Safeway may use this information to give you personally-tailored coupons, offers or other information
    And then further down, they essentially say that at any point they can amend the terms of the agreement at will:
    We reserve the right at our discretion to change, modify, add, or remove portions of this Statement at any time.
    In any event, they make it clear that they will contact you for whatever reason they see fit. I'm a little bit confused as to why anybody would feel that a grocery card entitles you to privacy, when you voluntarily agree to give them your information even while they state that they will essentially do whatever they please with it. If you aren't comfortable with Grocery X tracking your purchasing habits, do what everybody else on the planet does--provide incorrect information and forget about it. Not everything is a constitutional issue.
  • I can't think of a better reason to do it.

    Don't bother me to let me know about your newest sale on face cream. But by all means if you discover that I have bought something that may KILL ME, please violate my privacy and tell me about the recall.

    BTW, I never sign up for those cards.

  • Considering some of these companies sold out (well, not for money) all your information to the government back when the Patriot Act got passed, you really are behind on the times in terms of whining about their invasion of your privacy.
  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug&geekazon,com> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:16AM (#8073588) Homepage
    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."
    • Say you are a regular non-denominational guy who married a devout Hindu woman. Say you promised her to go vegan in a big way. Say she was out of town for a week and you got the beef cravings bad. So you bought some meat, with your discount card, and since it has been like two years since you've had any beef, you used it to make yourself the best damn tasting hamburger you've ever had.

      Now, your wifey is back in town and she gets a phone call from the market telling her that the meat you bought might be c
  • vegetarian (Score:3, Funny)

    by gyratedotorg ( 545872 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:20AM (#8073599) Homepage
    im a vegetarian, you insensitive clod!
  • 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.
  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:25AM (#8073609) Journal
    I can't believe that Slashdotters *of all people* would go along with this! These store cards are the next step to the chip in the head! Either you're for Privacy or against it! There are no grey areas!

    Except in this hamburger here... urp.


  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:32AM (#8073635)
    Recently, I've been helping clean up the legal mess left behind by a woman who was leading a 'criminal lifestyle" (Crack whore), until she OD'ed. (Ive been helping with this on behalf of her daughter, whom a close relative is adopting). What does this have to do with the story?
    We found that this woman gave obviously false information to everyone she ever got a card from. In a small town of about 10,000 people, where all the streets are named according to an obvious pattern, she still listed made up addresses such as "anytime place" or "1313 Mockingbird lane" on every grocery discount card, blockbuster type movie rental or whatever she got, going back 8 or 9 years. In a town with only one set of numbers for the first three digits of the local phone number, she entered what are apparently completely random strings, and sometimes mixxed letters and numbers, again without anyone apparently looking at them. On one, she listed her work address as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. Guess what her job description was?
    Not a single business evidently looked at the information she filled in on those forms, and she had over 30 such cards, literally including one for every grocery store in town. She ripped off several of the movie rental places for tapes, was wanted for bad checks and other crimes where an address might particularly matter at various times, and still, no one noticed any of this.
    We weren't too surprised that some pharmacies had ignored forged perscriptions and fraudulent signatures, or that she had pawned things with tickets in obviously false names (Her favorites when buying drugs seemed to be astronaut's names, and David Bowman). What we are surprised by is how many business that DIDNT have an incentive to look the other way obviously did so. Many of these lost money from their unconcern rather than made any.
    At first glance, it's like this whole system is built to work only for criminals. Still, if only the crooks were doing this, stores are not going to be dumb enough to keep getting stung with bad checks and such. Ergo, lots of otherwise honest people must be filling these things out with just as spurious information.
  • 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 ) <<> <ta> <bobodexut>> 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.


    Some Supermarket Chain
    • 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 Upp
  • 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.seventhcycle@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.

  • The important question here, is not if it was a violation of the privacy policy. This beef was potentially fatal. If you have a list of the people that bought it, and how to contact them, the only reason not to contact them is lawyers. Is anyone gonna be pissed you potentially saved their life? And even if they are, does it really matter? This isnt using their info to send them advertizements or to tell them your concerned they are eating to many junk foods. If the supermarket didnt contact me using an
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:06AM (#8073743) Homepage
    one day you get a recall notice for something someone else purchased.
  • 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.
    • 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.

  • I don't mind... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ziggy_zero ( 462010 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:35AM (#8073812)
    ...because I put a mini-discount card thing on my keychain, so if I lose my keys, there's a chance that someone who finds it will take it to the nearest Albertson's (as the little card says to) and a cashier can just scan the barcode and they know where to return my keys to.
  • by Barlo_Mung_42 ( 411228 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:35AM (#8073814) Homepage
    So did I (Barlo Mung) :)
    But when I pay with my credit or debit card they always thank me by name because it pops up on their screen or print out.
    If I was designing that database I'd have it populate the empty fields with the known info when someone pays by card. Such as name, address, phone number etc.
    Anyone know if they do this?
  • 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 tr
  • Protest website (Score:2, Informative)

    by Grabble ( 91256 )

    The most impressive site I've seen about this stuff is

    Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering []

    They've been tracking all manner of invasive (and, unfortunately, pervasive) supermarket marketing techniques for quite a while now.

  • The stores not using their databases to notify consumers are taking an interesting stance. They're saying that they don't want customers to think that their privacy rights can be abused by the discount card data collection.

    But, anybody who reads /. knows that the data collected by the cards can be abused. It's almost as if the stores are trying to admit to the great unwashed that they're actually collecting data down to the UPC, location, and timestamp level. We all know they are, they're not saying they'r
  • by chongo ( 113839 ) * on Saturday January 24, 2004 @05:03AM (#8073883) Homepage Journal
    In the state of California, supermarkets are required to give you the option of obtaining an anonymous discount card. I know this because when I was an elected official, I worked with my regional state legislators to draft and pass the legislation.

    Any retail or wholesale discount card that is not a line of credit, nor an instrument of debt (e.g, debit card) cannot require the consumer to disclose ANY information. They cannot even require you to provide your name! They cannot tie the use of a financial instrument (such as a credit, debit or check) back to the discount card account. Lastly, any consumer may lend or give their discount card to anyone else. You can use your discount card, hand it to the next person in line and apply for a new card the next time you come into the store if you wish.

    At my California supermarket, at the bottom of the form there was a small box that says "I decline to provide any information". When I received my discount card application I quickly went to the very bottom, checked the box and immediately handed it back to the clerk. They clerk was clearly puzzled, but with a little prompting I managed to convince them I and completed the form and so I got my first card. Then to demonstrate the anonymity, I gave my card to the next person in line who didn't have a card. I'm currently using a card that I friend from out of town picked up (who also checked the box) and gave to me.

    Some supermarkets have been slow to update their application forms, even thought the California law started 1-Jan-2001. I have had to help a friend deal with a supermarket who didn't want to give him a anonymous discount card. A call to the HQ of that supermarket cleared up the matter. (BTW: The store's excuse was that they had printed too many of the old forms that required comsumer information to toss them. Lame!) Perhaps the California law needs to be changed to prohibit the stores from even asking for such data?

    So I won't be notified of a beef recall anytime soon. Not that I care. I'm a vegitarian. :-)

  • by TeddyR ( 4176 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @06:30AM (#8074058) Homepage Journal
    Interestingly, some stores did not use the information because they felt it violated the customer's privacy

    BS!... What probably happened was that the lawyers got the list of the people that MAY be affected by the issue and decided that it would be cheaper to pay "real" claims as they come in rather than lose customers and invite "frivolous" litigation due to a possible scare.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.