Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Problem with Customer Loyalty Cards

For those of us concerned with privacy (and we should all be), I recommend that we limit the use of affinity or customer loyalty cards. These cards are used by companies to "reward" loyal customers with special deals.

Why limit our use of these cards? Although affinity/loyalty cards can be great ways to get special deals, these deals do come at the cost of allowing the company to collect information on you, such as your shopping habits, purchase history, product preferences, days/times you prefer to shop, and which store locations you frequent. They tie this information to your name, address, phone numbers, and email accounts, along with any other information they can find out about you. If you use credit or debit cards to make your purchases with, those accounts are tied to your affinity card file, which in turn gives the company access to your credit history and all the information contained therein. You would be stunned how much personal and private information companies acquire from you through those affinity cards.  

All this information is used by the company to both build customer loyalty, and to market products to you (in other words, to manipulate you into buying more stuff from them). This data may also be shared with its vendors and affiliated businesses, sold to other companies, or potentially stolen by company employees or outside hackers. It could also be obtained by law enforcement and other government agencies, often without the need for a warrant (depends on the individual company - ALL companies will comply with a warrant-backed request, some will comply even with requests without a warrant). 

The personal data companies mine on you is worth far more money to them than any profit lost from the special deals they offer you. You must decide for yourself if the money you save with these deals is worth giving up a portion of your privacy. Its an individual decision, but one you should make with full knowledge of the potential consequences.

I got rid of most of my affinity cards years ago. Today, I only have one, and it does not have my real name or address attached to it (and I only pay with cash so there is no credit/debit card attached to it either). This allows me to get the in-store specials. But since they don't have my mailing address, I don't get any of their flyers or coupons by mail, so I probably miss out on a few deals. 

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