The trap of club cards – how your purchase history is shared with the world

Many grocery stores offer club cards to give their patrons the chance to participate in discount prices and special offers, but what does a person give up in return?

Grocery stores collect information about their shoppers through club programs for a variety of purposes. They may use the information to evaluate shopping habits and patterns for enhanced advertisement targeting, to offer unique shopping discounts and freebies, or to assist in determining the best products to stock on store shelves. Stores essentially use the information to increase sales. While these uses might seem innocent enough, how else might stores use that information?

Shopping lists can contain extremely personal items such as contraceptives, pregnancy tests, adult diapers, hemorrhoid cream, and much more. If the grocery store shared this information with affiliated businesses, a store you’ve never shopped at before might suddenly send you an email on discounted incontinence products. What if the store sold this information to a data broker who collects and sells this information, as well as other information about you, to anyone willing to pay for it? It’s conceivable that in such a scenario, purchasing a pregnancy test could lead to a phone call from a company pitching its high-quality prenatal supplements. The world could potentially know everything about your purchasing habits, which are reflections of your lifestyle.

If a grocery store promises 100 percent privacy, that your information will not be shared or sold to anyone, your information could still fall into the wrong hands. Popular companies such as Target, eBay, Yahoo, Sony, and much more have been hacked in recent years. Is your grocery store next on the hacker’s to-do list? Is the store’s database secured against such an intrusion? You don’t know, and neither does the grocery store – until it’s too late.

Don’t take the chance your information will fall into the wrong hands. If you want to participate in a grocery store’s club program, don’t provide your contact information. Many grocery stores will provide a club card without requiring the card holder to fill out personal information before it can be used for purchases. Card use will still be tracked, but it won’t necessarily be personally identifiable to you. A store might still link card purchases to the credit card number used for payment, so it might be best to use cash when buying personal items you’d rather not disclose to the world.

Protect your personal information at all times, even with grocery store club cards, or risk giving access to the most intimate details of your life to every stranger who pays for access to it.