January 14, 2016

Privacy and Information Sharing

4. Scenario: Consumer loyalty cards and profiling

Retail loyalty cards

This is a scenario anchored in a familiar bargain that is offered in many existing retail environments. Many consumers already allow their shopping preferences to be tracked and sold to other companies in return for discounts on products, and some 47% of adults say they would be comfortable with the following scenario:

A grocery store has offered you a free loyalty card that will save you money on your purchases. In exchange, the store will keep track of your shopping habits and sell this data to third parties.

By comparison, 32% say it would not be acceptable, and another 20% say it would depend on the circumstances of the offer.

Those ages 50 and older are somewhat more likely than younger adults to say that this arrangement would not be acceptable: 39% of those 50 and older say this deal would not be acceptable, compared with 27% of those ages 18 to 49. In addition, those in households earning less than $30,000 per year are more likely than those in higher-income households to say this deal would be acceptable: 56% of those in lower-income households say the loyalty card bargain is acceptable vs. 43% of those in higher-earning households.

A number of those who find this scenario acceptable indicate that they are familiar with loyalty cards and/or already use these cards themselves. Yet even this group expresses concerns about how and under what circumstances their data are passed along to third parties:

Well, they do this now. If [my data are] secure and I get the deals, it’s OK.

“I use loyalty cards. As far as I can tell, the information is not being used inappropriately or specifically tied to me by third-parties, which I’m OK with.”

“Well, they do this now. If [my data are] secure and I get the deals, it’s OK.”

“The ‘selling to third party’ part makes me worry. OTOH [On the other hand], I have and frequently use a Safeway rewards card, which I suspect has just such an agreement.”

“I already participate in many ‘loyalty’ programs, but use pseudonyms so that I can determine the origin of the third-party contacts and trace back which store sold my consumer information.”

“I want to choose who emails information to me.”

“I would take the card to get discounts or coupon, but I wouldn’t want them selling my information to third parties. That would be a violation of my rights.”

Some of those who answered “it depends” to this scenario have different levels of trust depending on the company asking for their personal data. Others wanted more details about the specific bargains being offered:

How many third parties will you be sharing with? Can I control what info is shared? Is it just my anonymous shopping data, or is my personal info attached?

“Sharing it with a third party generally indicates that you will be inundated with unwelcome email offers and you may even get unwanted calls. If they use the data for themselves I am fine with that since I use their services/products.”

“ [It depends on] whether I trust the company.”

“Having the ability to control the information being sent would influence my decision.”

“How much money would I be saving, and how much personally identifying information will be shared?”

“How many third parties will you be sharing with? Can I control what info is shared? Is it just my anonymous shopping data, or is my personal info attached?”

“[I would consider this] only if I could opt out on sharing with third parties.”

“[It depends] on the type of store.”

“I’m not sure what kind of stipulation would be acceptable, but if I had choice and knowledge of what companies would receive the information, I may be OK with it.”

“I don’t want to be personally identified – I am OK if I am an anonymous shopper.”

“It depends on whether those third parties would contact me via phone, email or snail mail. If they just want to use my data, I suppose that’s fine, but I don’t want to be contacted or receive anything from those third parties. Keep it a one-way street. The only exception is if the grocery store gave me coupons based on what I bought.”

“If the ‘identifying info’ on me is just my purchase habits and my loyalty card number – OK. If it includes phone, address, credit or debit card info, not too interested.”

Those who said this arrangement was unacceptable took particular exception to the idea that data about their purchasing behavior might be sold to third parties after being collected by the retailer. Others expressed concern about how many unsolicited telemarketing calls might be generated by these personal shopping data:

I don’t want anything sold to third parties, because then I always get emails and mail that I didn’t want.

“Third party selling is not acceptable. If I want one company to have my information, that’s my choice, but not a bunch of other random companies.”

“I don’t want anything sold to third parties, because then I always get emails and mail that I didn’t want.”

“If I am spending my money in that store, they have no right to sell any information about me.”

“First, I don’t want you keeping track of what I buy, and second, I don’t want what I do to be sold to a third party.”

“Too many telemarketers are involved.”

“My shopping habits are my own business unless I choose to sell the information to another party. Why should a different party benefit from personal info that they’ve ‘gathered’ about me?”