Those grocery store "loyalty cards" that they push on you to enjoy discounts on groceries are actually a behavior surveillance technology that's used to capture and profile your grocery purchasing patterns. This data is then sold off to insurance companies who use it to raise your rates by linking your grocery purchases with the risk of disease.
Buying a lot of ice cream? You're more likely to be obese and diabetic.
Purchasing a lot of processed meats and homogenized milk? You're more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
Bringing home a lot of processed food with additives, chemical sweeteners and chemical preservatives? You're far more likely to get cancer.
Health insurance companies are now using this data to develop these sorts of "risk profiles" of individual consumers. And it's all enabled because people are so incredibly obedient that they actually fill out their real names and addresses on these grocery loyalty cards. Health insurance companies simply use credit reporting databases to link your grocery loyalty card account number to your health insurance account number, and from there, your insurance rates can be adjusted based on what you buy to eat.
Even worse, they can use this data to deny your health insurance claims. For example, if you get diagnosed with cancer, your health insurance company can look through your grocery purchasing history and show that you bought processed meat products containing cancer-causing sodium nitrite. They can use this data to deny payment on your claims and push the blame on YOU for living a "cancer lifestyle."
From conspiracy theory to conspiracy fact
When I first reported on this a decade ago, I was called a "conspiracy theorist" for daring the write about the "absurd" idea that grocery store purchase data would be used against you. But now, in the age of total police state surveillance of your search engine queries, cell phone texts, bank transactions, emails and web surfing behavior, the idea that corporations are purchasing your grocery purchase surveillance data is no longer just a theory: it's a conspiracy fact.
"Marketing firms have sold this data to retailers and credit-card companies for years, and health plans have recently discovered they can use it to augment claims data," reports the Wall Street Journal.
The title of that article, by the way, is, "How the Insurer Knows You Just Stocked Up on Ice Cream and Beer." It opens with this paragraph:
Your company already knows whether you have been taking your meds, getting your teeth cleaned and going for regular medical checkups. Now some employers or their insurance companies are tracking what staffers eat, where they shop and how much weight they are putting on -- and taking action to keep them in line.
This is all reported in a ho-hum, matter-of-fact manner. There is no cry of "conspiracy theorists!" There is no accusation that the Wall Street Journal is fear mongering over a fabricated bit of fictional news. Nope, in 2013 this news is simply accepted as "normal."
This is how things work in our world: When people like myself or Alex Jones first warn you about what's coming, we're called "conspiracy theorists" and told that whatever we're talking about doesn't exist. Later, once it becomes obvious that the thing we were talking about does, indeed, exist, the accusation changes to, "Well, you should LIKE it!"
That's what we're hearing about grocery shopping loyalty cards now. Yes, it's all admitted that they are tracking your grocery purchase behavior, and it's all admitted that this surveillance data is being sold off to countless corporations who use that data to spy on your eating habits and maybe even deny you health insurance claims. But now you're just supposed to accept it as "normal" and not question it. "What kind of a kook wants anonymity in their grocery purchases anyway?" the thinking goes.
How corporations spy on the most intimate parts of your life
The thing is, when they aggregate your purchase data, they can easily determine all sorts of very private things about your life. They know whether you have pets or children. They even know very private, personal things like when you purchase a pregnancy test kit or the fact that you're using hair coloring products. They know which brands you prefer, how many coupons you use, and even when you're planning a party.
All this information can and will be used to target you with not just marketing messages, but potentially to raise your insurance rates or even fire you from your job because you're a "heart attack risk." Yep, just wait for your employer to get their hands on all this information. It has already begun, in fact. As the Wall Street Journal report:
Some critics worry that the methods cross the line between protective and invasive -- and could lead to job discrimination. ...Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights... worries employers could conceivably make other conclusions about people who load up the cart with butter and sugar.
When you use grocery loyalty cards, you allow the corporate borg to invade your private life and pry into the most intimate activities inside your own home.
It's not about saving you money. It's about the grocery store making money by selling the most private, intimate details of your life to any number of unethical corporations, all of which are drooling over the possibility of using this information against you in some insidious way.
My run-in with the "card pusher"
About a decade ago, I had a repeated run-in with a loyalty card pusher at a local grocery store. This cashier, a 50's-something bearded man, knew I always paid with cash and always refused a loyalty card, and over time this began to infuriate him.
He kept insisting that I should sign up for the card because otherwise I was "throwing money away." The idea of privacy protection never even entered his mind, of course. He had no clue what his own employer was doing with all this data.
Eventually, just to play along with the guy, one day I said, "Okay, I'll fill it out this time," I filled it out with a false name and no address, making sure that nothing could be linked to my real name and address.
This satisfied the cashier's insistence that I stop "throwing money away," but it also protected my privacy from the prying eyes of corporate marketers and insurance companies.
And this is the solution for everyone: Fill out the cards if you want, but use false names.
Never use your real name on retailer loyalty cards
Have fun with this. Resist the grocery surveillance agenda by using funny, inappropriate names such as :
• Chris P. Bacon
• Oliver Closoff
• Heywood Jablome
• Pat McGroin (also works with the TSA)
• Jack Hoff
Remember, there is no requirement that you give them your real name and address to sign up for their loyalty card. Let 'em have fun trying to find the health insurance policy for Heywood Jablome. You can only imagine the corporate phone conversation:
"Hello this is Kevin from Data Resources International. We're looking for a match on a name from your database."
"What name is that?"
(pause) "Don't you have any phone manners?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I asked for what name you were looking for, and you said..."
"YES! I mean, NO! There you go again!"
"But that's his name."
"What's his name?"
"NO! And stop asking!"
... and so on.
See, you can turn grocery store loyalty cards into much-needed comic relief. This is one way you give the system the shaft and walk away with your privacy intact.