How Companies Can Use Your Personal Data Against You

January 15 th , 2008

When you’re stacking up grocery items at the checkout line, you’re probably not worried about whether your supermarket chain is compiling a profile of you based on what you buy, and storing that information for its own use. After all, who cares if you buy one brand of tissues over another, or favor name-brand microwave pizzas over store brands?

Supermarket chains care. So does CVS. So much so that they use discount cards (referred to as “membership” or “loyalty” cards) to offer you what seem like great bargains. They use the cards to keep tabs on what you purchase, how often you shop, and what your buying preferences are.

With private companies collecting your personal data like never before, why be concerned? Because the information can hurt you. For Instance…

Loyalty Cards
Supermarkets and pharmacies offer discounts when you sign up for their loyalty cards. But every time you swipe your card, your purchases are recorded for marketing purposes. Stop and Shop now features “Shopping Buddy” which will soon identify you by your loyalty card, present you with a list of items you’ve purchased in the past and even make recommendations for items you might like based on previous purchases. Sounds like it might be a good thing??? Perhaps not.

The Problem
These buying records are now being sold to life and health insurance companies, who use them to evaluate your rates based on your food and non-prescription drug purchases. You may be buying stuff for a friend or relative, but the database still logs you as the end user. Do you really want your HMO to know your shopping habits?

Self-Defense
If possible, avoid giving your full name when you sign up for a card. Many stores let you sign up anonymously as “Store Customer”. If the person attempting to sign you up says you can’t do that, ask to speak to the manager. In many cases these folks are being paid by the number of new customers they sign up. If you can’t sign up anonymously perhaps it would be best to refuse the loyalty card altogether.

Lastly – if you’re concerned – ask for a copy of their Privacy Policy. I searched Stop and Shops website in vain, never finding their policy but CVS.com has a link to theirs from almost every page. Remember once your personal data has been collected it has a nasty habit of never going away.

Another take on loyalty cards:
http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/16389/

In researching this piece, I was asked to report on the E-Z Pass system and the rumors surrounding it. Rumor has it that the E-Z Pass system is tracking how fast you travel between tolls in order to issue speeding tickets.

E-Z Pass was created to help speed traffic flow and decrease congestion at toll booths. The rumor mill is reporting that several states use this technology to issue speeding tickets – if you travel too quickly between tolls on the highway! In effect, you can get a speeding ticket even if you don’t get caught speeding. What’s more, E-Z Pass records have been turned over to law enforcement to track people’s whereabouts and have been subpoenaed in civil lawsuits, including divorces.

Debunking the myth
Although there are many articles and resources talking about this, let’s look at it logically.

Speeding ticket’s NOT issued be a police officer that actually saw you violating a law are worthless. There have been many attempts to set up systems to monitor speeding vehicles, record the license plate and issue a ticket but the main problem is that an individuals drivers license is personal and there is no way to detect who the actual driver is in order to give the ticket. It’s not like a parking ticket that just goes against who ever owns the car.

The system that E-Z Pass is putting into place is strictly for safety purposes at this time. If anyone ever gets one of these so called speeding tickets you can take it to court and plead not guilty. The ticket will be thrown out simply because there is no issuing officer to represent the letter of the law.

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