Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Big Brother at the checkout

Apparently the government are planning to use supermarket loyalty card data to spy on the purchasing habits of members of the public and send them warning letters if they appear to be violating guidelines on healthy eating and drinking. Obviously this is something that is easy to circumvent simply by ceasing to use the loyalty card, and in any case is likely, dependent on your shopping patterns, to produce skewed data. It’s entirely credible that someone might buy all their fruit and veg for cash in markets, and just go to Tesco to stock up on drink and non-perishable items, in which case they would end up with a black mark.

As the owner of a Tesco Clubcard, I have to say they have never tried to tempt me with offers on things I just wouldn’t buy, with the exception of the occasional coupon for alcohol-free lager. They sometimes even give me 50p off “any beer, lager or cider”. If they did start bombarding me with coupons for fruit and veg, obviously I’d just junk the card.

But the disturbing thing about this story is that government should even think it acceptable. It opens up an Overton window by suggesting that the idea is even under consideration. Despite their weasel words in favour of liberty, it seems that governments of all political persuasions are doing their best to track more and more of our activities, by aiming to monitor our shopping habits, our car journeys and our electronic communications.

And how long before the “voluntary” loyalty card monitoring becomes compulsory, in all shops, and the personal alcohol ration card is introduced?


  1. if Waitrose want to send me the odd email suggesting I might want to eat an apple or two then I'll shrug it off the same as I do all the other crap that lands in my email inbox and on my household doormat. despite my antipathy towards anything dreamt up by marketing departments, i'm not wholly convinced that a bit of well-intentioned (albeit somewhat overbearingly personalised) junk mail inevitably leads to compulsory rationing, cultural re-education camps for beer enthusiasts and the reclassification of CAMRA members as domestic extremists.

  2. Ah yes, Jon, it always comes in gently at first...

  3. Yes, Jon, let's just give in to them. What's the worst that could happen?

    Believe it or not, direct marketing can be beneficial. If ebuyer or Amazon notice me sniffing around for a flash drive or a HDD, they'll let me know if one's on special. We all win.

    Sharing the shopping habits of people with the authorities is something else again.

  4. no it doesn't, it comes in very noisily indeed, wearing brown shirts and being obsequiously applauded by dreadful tabloids.

  5. I think you've risen to the bait of some daft kit flying.

    I love the way the government are supposed to be in Tesco's pocket, yet the government can nationalise their clubcard.

    You pointed out the flaw. Punters binning their club cards. The clubcard data is a goldmine for Tesco, they would not let the government trash it.

  6. There are plenty of things where people have said "it'll never happen", but a few years down the line it has.

  7. I will have fun marking "Return to Sender" any such letters sent to me.

  8. I have already been questioned about my tobacco purchase.

    Last week in Tesco the clerk enquired how long it would last me.



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