Loyalty cards mean profits for stores, privacy questions for consumers

The Associated Press via NJ.com: Loyalty cards mean profits for stores, privacy questions for consumers .

With a massive amount of data being collected on shoppers, from the types of soda they buy to whether they like to shop late at night, merchants are getting smarter at tracking consumer trends. And they're changing their merchandise, store layout and advertising accordingly to keep their most loyal customers spending.

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But while stores insist these cards — now embraced by almost half the supermarket chains — only help keep loyal customers satisfied by having the right products at the prices they want, some privacy advocates contend there's a dark side.

Every time consumers swipe, they say, they give up their privacy.

“They're not saving devices, but data collection devices,” argues Katherine Albrecht, director and founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, a consumer privacy advocacy group.

Larry Ponemon, founder of a Tucson, Ariz.-based privacy research institute bearing his surname, said stores are already selling information to diet centers, manufacturers and marketing companies, though he declined to give names. Company officials from Food Lion, Winn-Dixie, Stop & Shop, CVS and other big chains deny they sell the information to other parties.

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But Suzanne Grant, a 36-year-old Plano, Texas, resident, said she resents having to “give away personal information in order to get the best deals everywhere.”

In fact, she gives out bogus information, including a false name and address, when filling out an application.

“I may miss out on some offers in the mail, but I'd rather keep my address and phone number private,” she said. “They may have my shopping patterns, but they can't tie the info to me.”  [Privacy Digest]

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