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Big Brother Is Watching Us Shop

April 18, 1998|GREGG BUTTERFIELD | Gregg Butterfield is an engineer who lives in Burbank

Why do we need to carry around identification cards to shop and get the best prices? You know the cards I'm talking about: the grocery store has one, the bookstore has one, the pet store has one, almost every place you shop has one. I object to them for many reasons.

% I don't like jumping through hoops to get a good price. Who is the customer here?

% These cards are loss-leader programs. What you save on one item you more than make up for with increased prices on other items. These programs cost money to administer. Who do you think pays for them?

% These cards are being used to track our purchases, not just statistically, but as individuals.

This last reason bothers me most. Think of all the information that can be gathered about someone just by tracking the way he or she spends money. There is no protection right now to prevent companies that compile databases about their customers from sharing information.

Biometric identification, the use of physical characteristics to identify individuals, is now entering the marketplace. This will eliminate the need for cards. Very soon, with the use of a camera to look into your iris, any establishment will be able find out just who you are, then collect or retrieve data about you. It will be possible to track everything you buy from birth until death.

This makes me very uneasy. Even though I have nothing of real importance to conceal, I really don't want large corporations tracking my life in such detail. I don't want a bank of computers looking over my shoulders every time I make a move, no matter how virtuous (or not) I am.

Retail store shopping cards are only the beginning. We need to understand what they mean and where they are going to take us.


Gregg Butterfield is an engineer who lives in Burbank.

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