Tesco customer databases and the Data Protection Act

| | Comments (14)

The Guardian has a report about the massive secret marketing database which Tesco, the UK's largest retailer, keeps on its customers, and which it is is apparently hoping to use on everyone else as well.

Their resistance to journalists' requests for their own personal data under the Data Protection Act shows that "they must have something to hide".

Who believes that Tesco etc. will not attempt to collate any National Identity Register numbers which they happen to catch sight of into this vast array of data ?

Tesco stocks up on inside knowledge of shoppers' lives

· Crucible database is exhaustive - and secret
· Government bodies are tapped for information

Heather Tomlinson and Rob Evans
Tuesday September 20, 2005
The Guardian"

Tesco is quietly building a profile of you, along with every individual in the country - a map of personality, travel habits, shopping preferences and even how charitable and eco-friendly you are. A subsidiary of the supermarket chain has set up a database, called Crucible, that is collating detailed information on every household in the UK, whether they choose to shop at the retailer or not.

The company refuses to reveal the information it holds, yet Tesco is selling access to this database to other big consumer groups, such as Sky, Orange and Gillette."

It contains details of every consumer in the UK at their home address across a range of demographic, socio-economic and lifestyle characteristics," says the marketing blurb of dunnhumby, the Tesco subsidiary in question. It has "added intelligent profiling and targeting" to its data through a software system called Zodiac. This profiling can rank your enthusiasm for promotions, your brand loyalty, whether you are a "creature of habit" and when you prefer to shop. As the blurb puts it: "The list is endless if you know what you are looking for."

Attempts by a number of Guardian reporters to retrieve their own personal information under the Data Protection Act led to a four month battle; the request was ultimately denied so the Guardian has appealed to the Information Commissioner. Tesco has provided some personal data held by Clubcard, the loyalty scheme that monitors members' shopping and which has been credited with fuelling the supermarket group's astronomical growth in the past decade.

But as far as Crucible is concerned, the company admits it has "put great effort into designing our services" so information is classed in a way that circumvents disclosure provisions in the Data Protection Act."

"Dunnhumby's chairman, Clive Humby, offers a few more clues. Companies such as Experian, Claritas and Equifax have databases on individuals and Crucible collects from them all. Any questionnaire you may have completed, any reader offers you responded to, are bought to build up a picture of attitudes and habits. Crucible also trawls the electoral roll, collecting names, ages and housing information. It uses data from the Land Registry, Office for National Statistics and other bodies to generate a profile of the area you live in. Zodiac is employed to provide a more detailed profile."

See the full article for some of the Clubcard details which were released.

The Data Protection Act 1998 needs to be strengthened in the face of such assults on our privacy.

If Tesco are not keeping any personally identifiable private data, without the explicit informed consent of the individual consumers, then they should not be so fearful about responding to the Guardian journalists legitimate Subject Data Access requests.

Hopefully the journalists remebered to also ask, in writing, for the logic of any automated data processing of their data i.e. the "post code lottery" profiling etc., to be explained to them in plain English, as requred under the Data Protection Act, but only if this is explicitly requested.

Tesco, and their rivals, data gathering retention and profiling policies must be made transparent to the public.

We should learn from the mistakes made in the USA, where such databases are heavily abused by commercial and political interests - see Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering

14 Comments

Initially I thought the loyalty card schemes of supermarkets like Tescos were a really good idea. They could gather information about my shopping habits, and then make special offers specifically appropriate to me. For example, they might notice that I buy a lot of Wensleydale cheese, and then give me some vouchers for money off that specific product.

I want these systems to enable companies to treat me as an individual, rather than just some homogenous marketing bracket.

However, after I'd had a loyalty card for some while it became apparent that they really weren't using the information in that way. They were just using it very stupidly, giving me offers for stuff I would never normally buy. Mass customisation still seems to be something for the future, rather than a feature which is currently available.

Better service to you as an individual may not be happening now, but the sale of *your* loyalty card data to other companies and government agencies certainly is.

Even the Inland Revenue have taken an interest in Loyalty Card Data during their tax investigations.

The Data Protection Act definition of Personal Data also includes allegedly "anonymised" data which can be personally identified, by, for example, cross referencing it with the Electoral Roll or the Post Code / Address databases.

I am sure that Tesco are financially motivated to to prevent their customer specific data from getting into the hands of their commercial rivals. The same cannot be said of the Data Sharing that goes on between public authotities and government departments, and foreign governments.

Christianity vs Tesco:

Do you go every week?
Do you get messages telling you how to lead your life?
Do you feel you get a reward for going there?
Does it reach out to the entire community?
Do you depend on it?
Are you loyal?

The Tesco Gods hoped you answered yes to all of those.

*Money and principles don't mix.*

I have just discovered that Tesco are currently handing out '£8 off your shopping vouchers (if you spend £40', at the checkout to some of its customers.
I regularly spend over £120 per week and have never been offered one of these vouchers. On phoning the Tesco Clubcard number the first woman told me it was not available to all its customers as it was specifically designed to encourage 'low spending' customers to spend more. The woman in complaints told me it was a completely random computer generated offer. Why then has my neighbour received such a token each week for the last 4 weeks?
What sort of marketing ploy only rewards some of its customers?
As my regular shopping bill has leapt up in price recently, I now suspect that I am helping to subsidise this unfair promotion.
At the time that Tesco announce record profits this is no way to treat loyal customers and I will be taking my custom elsewhere. They obviously don't value my £480.00 per month!!

Its interesting to read about these loyalty cards. Its true! they send you vouchers on items you don`t want! probably to move products that are slow moving in their store. Supermarkets will soon rule the United Kingdom, as they diversify into other products...Its shocking! but thats what the public want as we have NO TIME to live. I work three jobs and with the little time I have left guess where I shop? Cheers...bring on Lidl!

i have recently been given a copy of the article at uni as part of an assignment. it really is truely shockin. the funny thing is i actually work there. i agree with the 1st post that the DPA needs to strengthened to stop things likle this happening. surely there is something that can be done about this as it will sioon become a complete joke. just think the future could end up havin smarkets restricting entry based on your spending habbits.

Tesco is the biggest supermarket ever, and we have the bigggest tesco in Britain. Kingston Park. Newcastle. any 1 wanna disagree!!!!!!!

@ d - but how does Tesco compare with its rivals in terms of customer data protection and privacy ?

ur all a load of freaks talking about tesco on the internet. who would track down a web site where u can slag tesco off. suck my big hairy cock

@ "jimmy" - the same people who would take the trouble to track down your Local County Council's Internet Acceptable Use Policy and complaints procedure etc. 8-)

i thinhk this is a good idea as this way Tesco will know what customers buy on a regular basis and will be able to give them vouchers of the item. the person who said they have the biggest Tesco pleeeeaaase come down to slough and look at Our Tesco superstore

about TESCO

who is the Tesco customer?
which type of customer Tesco have?
and about customer needs and expections

In november i bought my farther in law a dvd player from tesco. a month later i recived a letter from the tv licensing people asking me to pay for a licence.....DOES THIS MEAN MY PERSONAL INFORMATION. is being exchanged to different companys? as i already had a tv licence. and the dvd player was a non recordable model no more action was taken by them.........but that was the wake up call what told me not to bother to shop at tescos

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cpni_logo_150.gif Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure - "CPNI provides expert advice to the critical national infrastructure on physical, personnel and information security, to protect against terrorism and other threats."

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Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) recruitment.

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Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ

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National Crime Agency - the replacement for the Serious Organised Crime Agency

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Defence Advisory (DA) Notice system - voluntary self censorship by the established UK press and broadcast media regarding defence and intelligence topics via the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

Foreign Spies / Intelliegence Agencies in the UK

It is not just the UK government which tries to snoop on British companies, organisations and individuals, the rest of the world is constantly trying to do the same, regardless of the mixed efforts of our own UK Intelligence Agencies who are paid to supposedly protect us from them.

For no good reason, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only keeps the current version of the London Diplomatic List of accredited Diplomats (including some Foreign Intelligence Agency operatives) online.

Presumably every mainstream media organisation, intelligence agency, serious organised crime or terrorist gang keeps historical copies, so here are some older versions of the London Diplomatic List, for the benefit of web search engine queries, for those people who do not want their visits to appear in the FCO web server logfiles or those whose censored internet feeds block access to UK Government websites.

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

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Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

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Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

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Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV

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I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !

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Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign

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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."

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Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

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WhistleblowersUK.org - Fighting for justice for whistleblowers