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
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