Sunday, October 24, 2004

CBC's Marketplace investigates loyalty programs

Marketplace, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's consumer affairs program has just continued their series of privacy features by investigating two of the country's loyalty programs:

CBC Marketplace: Mining your business

"Our quest: to find out what companies do with your information - the personal stuff you provide on the sign-up sheet when you apply for a card ... and the information gleaned from your purchases when your card is swiped at the store."

Their investigation (with a small sample) confirmed the conclusions of Katherine Albrecht, of CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering), that loyalty programs do not result in real savings ...

"For some background on loyalty card programs, we headed to Harvard University, in Boston, Massachusetts. We met with a student and privacy activist named Katharine [sic] Albrecht. She's doing her doctoral thesis on loyalty cards.

In all her research, Albrecht says she's "been unable to find a single consumer benefit from using these cards."

But wait ... We thought these loyalty card programs were about saving consumers a dime. To test Albrecht's thesis, we did a little research of our own. We went shopping.

Among the interesting elements of the report is a view into the information that is collected by loyalty programs. The show's "consumer cadets" opened loyalty program accounts and subsequently requested access to their personal information. The responses from the companies are posted on the show's website.

Those interested may also wish to check out some of the materials released by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, following their complaint to the Privacy Commissioner about the information collected by various organizations, including a high-profile loyalty program.

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