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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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  • 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 calmdude ( 605711 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:08AM (#8073554)
    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 promotional notices
    [ ] I want to know when my cow is mad
    [ ] I want no notifications of any sort

    We already see this regularly on the web, but I haven't seen it on those customer loyalty card applications. Perhaps it's time for this idea to be implemented. Instead of deciding what's best for the customer, let's try the novel idea of letting the customer decide what's best for themselves.

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

    by ron_ivi ( 607351 ) <(sdotno) (at) (cheapcomplexdevices.com)> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:37AM (#8073646)
    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:Well lets see... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @03:58AM (#8073720)
    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.

    Of course the whole issue is sidestepped if you ask the customer how he feels about it, as they did in this particular case. Maybe they could put a little check mark on the application form that says "Would you like us to monitor your eating habits" or something.

  • 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.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:22AM (#8073778)
    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 =)
  • 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?
  • Re:Fake Information (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joe_bruin ( 266648 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @04:54AM (#8073863) Homepage Journal
    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 know this is slashdot, but still) if you share your card with her and hers with you when you go shopping together. it doesn't take an expert data miner to get that.

    but they really don't care about that. why should they? what they do care about is the "age", "sex", and "household income" fields that you filled in with the slip that you put your fake name on. they want to know that a 28 year old male who buys a bag of diapers at 2am will also buy a sixpack of beer. they're only interested in one thing, selling you more product at higher volumes. they don't really care who you are. but if you're going to be paranoid, do it right. "i put fake information" is not going to cut it.
  • 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. :-)

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Re:Your Club Savings (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2004 @09:50AM (#8074566)
    but give me a bonus card anyway

    So it seems like Albertson's realizes that being able to measure stats at monkey level rather than a per checkout event level, is more important than having people fill the db with fake data.

    Personally, I use someone else's Safeway Card since you can just use a home phone number as the card id you type in. That must screw up their stats -
    During shopping trip A customer X buys "Import Tuner" mag and corn chips, then on trip B buys Cosmo and Ice Cream... and the trips were 15 minutes apart but at stores 60 miles from each other.
  • Re:is it invasion? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ccandreva ( 409807 ) <chris@westnet.com> on Saturday January 24, 2004 @11:16AM (#8074813) Homepage
    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.

    Since a very good friend of my family died of BSE here in the US, and he wasn't a woman, I an tell you right off the bat that your numbers are wrong.

    It is a slow, horrible way to die. The supermarkets saying their customer's privacy is their primary concern have their head up their ass. Your primary concern should be your customers being alive to have privacy.
  • Expectations (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @11:29AM (#8074858) Homepage
    The only reasonable expectation of privacy is that laid out in the privacy policy you agreed to when getting the card.

    Any actions involving the information provided which are not explicity documented in the privacy policy are definately not permitted.

  • by number11 ( 129686 ) on Saturday January 24, 2004 @01:34PM (#8075543)
    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.

    What country did you say you were from? Certainly not the US. In the US the info becomes the property of the business, to do whatever it bloody well pleases with.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 24, 2004 @01:49PM (#8075613)

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich