[Politech] More on "Card Games" shopping cards article [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Wed Oct 29 2003 - 21:50:35 PST

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    From: "J.D. Abolins" <jda-ir@private>
    To: Declan McCullagh <declan@private>
    Subject: [priv] FYI: Shopping Cards article's rebuttal and acknowledgement 
    by article's author
    Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2003 00:06:19 -0400
    This was an interesting item from the Baltimore City Paper Online Letters
    section (as of Mon 27 Oct 2003; looks like it will scroll of the site soon).
    Among other things, it shows how confusing and erroneous info came come up
    with some of the privacy issues and activism. (Sometimes, it is the
    interpretation of the "they don't but they could" comments that can have a
    life of their own. Thus, it becomes important to chase the original sources.
    I have gotten burned number of times on this myself. <blush>)
    I admire Joab Jackson's integrity in his response when it would be tempting to
    schluff off the letter's statements.
    J.D. Abolins
    Raw Deal
      The "Card Games" article <http://www.citypaper.com/2003-10-01/feature.html>
    featured in your Oct. 1 edition misstated that Consumers Against Supermarket
    Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) spokeswoman Liz McIntyre "comes up
    short" in supplying examples of cases in which supermarket "loyalty card"
    data was misused or used against the shopper. In fact, McIntyre, indicated to
    the author, Joab Jackson, and later to City Paper's fact checker that
    Katherine Albrecht should be contacted for examples. Ms. Albrecht is the
    founder and director of CASPIAN, and she is researching supermarket loyalty
    cards for her Harvard doctoral thesis.
    Other salient misstatements or misleading statements in the article include,
    but are not limited to, the following:
    Article misstatement: " . . . chances are Catalina knows you. The company
    works with about 18,000 supermarkets nationwide (its Web site lists Giant,
    Safeway, Food Lion, and CVS as customers, among others), keeping a database
    of 100,000 households."
    Fact: Catalina Marketing indicates it manages "the second largest real-time
    transactional database in the world." Reportedly it has access to up to 65
    weeks of historical purchase data and records for over 100 million
    Article misstatement: "Although most stores say they don't sell the data to
    outside parties, they do frequently sell it to 'partners' or companies that
    do business with the stores, CASPIAN claims."
    Fact: No one from CASPIAN makes this claim, and this is not indicated at the
    CASPIAN Web site, www.nocards.org. In fact, CASPIAN does not believe that the
    stores sell this data, though theoretically it could be shared.
    Article misstatement: "But contrary to CASPIAN's contention, cardholders do
    enjoy good savings from time to time. . . . You may have a Super Savings
    Card, but it isn't a Super Duper Savings Card. You're probably not saving
    more than you would be in no-card stores."
    Fact: CASPIAN and numerous news organizations have shown that shoppers pay
    higher prices on average at stores with loyalty cards--even after factoring
    in "loyalty card savings." For example, in January 2003, The Wall Street
    Journal examined the prices at card and noncard stores in five American
    cities (Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Brooklyn, N.Y., and San Francisco). Here is
    its reported conclusion: "In all five comparisons, we wound up spending less
    money in a supermarket that doesn't offer a card--in one case 29 percent
    Article misstatement: "CASPIAN encourages consumers not to use cards when
    shopping as a way to send a message to the markets. Some message. Sending
    that message to Safeway would have cost you $9.48--payable directly to
    Safeway itself."
    Fact: While it is true that CASPIAN discourages shoppers from using "loyalty
    cards," the author failed to take into account the second crucial part of
    CASPIAN's message, which is to boycott stores that require cards to "qualify"
    for sales prices. CASPIAN encourages shoppers to seek out privacy-friendly,
    card-free stores where the prices are likely to be lower overall. We would
    never encourage shoppers to pay higher prices overall at a store that invades
    their privacy.
    Article misstatement: "CASPIAN's McIntyre paints a picture of a
    consumer-friendly Orwellian nightmare. . . . For instance, she postulates, it
    would be possible, if not probable, for some fiendish corporation or
    government agency to collect a list of every item you own, using the tag
    numbers of the items you purchased."
    Fact: At no point has anyone affiliated with CASPIAN referred to radio
    frequency identification tags (RFID) as "consumer friendly." In fact, we
    believe just the opposite.
    In addition, a corporation or government does not have to be "fiendish" to
    access consumer databases. For example, a business might want to access
    records about shopper purchases for marketing reasons. It is probable that
    even mainstream companies will be very interested in studying shopper
    behavior via RFID data since they already do so with other tools currently in
    Katherine Albrecht
    Liz McIntyre
      Communications Director
    Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering
    Nashua, N.H.
    Joab Jackson replies: I apologize to Liz McIntyre. She did ask that I speak
    with CASPIAN founder Katherine Albrecht about providing examples on store
    misuse of shopping card data. Unfortunately, Albrecht was not available
    before the article's deadline. Still, it was an egregious error on my part to
    infer in the article that McIntyre was speaking for CASPIAN about shopping
    cards. I profusely apologize for my mistake and any hardship it might have
    caused McIntyre or CASPIAN.
    The article, "Card Games" is at
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