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By Esther Vivas
A laboratory called ‘super’
We arrive at the ‘super’ and some signs, generally in light colors, welcome us and encourage us to enter, often accompanied by hot offers that advertise very cheap prices. We take the shopping cart, so large that much has to be filled so that it does not seem empty, and we begin the search for what we need through countless aisles with shelves overflowing with products. The trolley, no matter how straight you carry it, always turns towards the shelf and there you see, like someone who does not want the thing, a new item that you did not expect and you add it to the order.
You need milk and yogurts and you have to go through the entire mall to get them. Why will they always put what you need most at the end of the establishment? On the way, a string of music with rhythm plays in the background, you don't even hear it but there it is encouraging you to buy. You look at prices and you don't understand why the amounts are never round, they always end with decimals, making it very difficult to compare one with the other. Luckily you look at all those that end in 9, and thus you save a little. Although, perhaps, there is not much difference between paying a penny more or less. Of course, the product seems cheaper.
Touch to stop, two carts with people shopping in the middle. And I wonder why they make the corridors so narrow? Anyway. I take the opportunity to look at one shelf and another and there is that bag of chips that does not suit me looking straight at me. He will not come from here ... to the car! Now I go looking for the package of rice that I need but they have already moved it again. I do not understand why every x time products move from site. When I already know the route by heart, it is my turn, once again, to do a thousand turns before finding what I need. Of course, when I relearn the path, I discover new products that I hadn't even noticed before.
I just have to get the detergent. In the drugstore and at eye level I see that brand that they say on TV, it leaves clothes so clean. I take the container and, by chance, I look at the price… how expensive! I return the unit. I look up and down the shelf and there I find another lesser known but cheaper brand. I reach down and grab her. Why would they put it in a more difficult place to catch? Now is the time to check out. In the queue and bored by the wait, I see those chocolates, candies, sweets ... and just a foot away. Impossible to say "no". Come on, a day is a day, to the basket.
Analyzing my "journey", I ask myself how many things have I bought that I did not need? Have I purchased the products that interested me? It is estimated that between 25% and 55% of our purchase is compulsive, the result of external stimuli. We put it in the car even though we don't need it. And when we pass a shelf, 20% of us buy the brand that is at eye level earlier than any other, just for convenience, even if those others are cheaper. Without being aware, we are guinea pigs in a large laboratory called 'super'.
Smile, they record you
Our movements in a supermarket never go unnoticed, one camera or another, placed here or there, records it. But what do you do with those images? Do we know when they are recording us? Can we access those footage? Professor Andrew Clement of the University of Toronto and founder of the Institute for Identity, Privacy and Security points out our defenselessness in the face of these practices. According to a study carried out by his team in Canada, none of the cameras placed in the largest Canadian shopping centers met the signaling requirements required by the Law. Here, in Europe, the controversy is also served. We have no idea what or how or when they record or what they do with the images.
The supermarket chain Lidl starred in one of the biggest scandals when, in March 2008, it was discovered that it was systematically spying on its workers in various establishments in Germany using mini-cameras placed in strategic locations. Every Monday, according to the German weekly Stern, a team of detectives installed between five and ten cameras at the request of his management under the pretext of preventing robberies. However, these cameras were used to monitor workers, record their conversations and develop detailed personal profiles. This is not an isolated case. Its competitor Aldi was accused, in March 2013, of spying on its employees in several supermarkets in Germany and Switzerland using hidden cameras, according to the German magazine Spiegel.
Here, the Spanish Data Protection Agency opened a sanctioning process against Alcampo for spying on its workers. At the end of 2007, Alcampo secretly installed three hidden cameras in spaces reserved for personnel in a Ferrol hypermarket. Weeks later, he used the contents of those tapes to fire one employee and punish eleven others. Consumers are also the object of voyeurism. The latter was released by the Tesco supermarket chain, at the end of 2013, in Great Britain. The company installed small cameras in 450 gas stations with the aim of scanning the faces of its customers in the queue of the establishment in order to detect their age and gender and offer them the most appropriate advertising for their profiles. Steven Spielberg's sci-fi movie ‘Minority Report’ come true, although personalized ads based on retinal reading, as in the film, it seems they won't have to wait for 2054.
Our life on a card
"Do you have a customer card?" It is already a ritual that they ask us when they go to the cashier. And if you don't have it, they offer us a sea of advantages, discounts and rewards after it. In this way, we run to fill out the form, writing down all our data, without just reading what we signed, to be able to access such fantastic promotions as soon as possible. However, what happens to the information we give out? Who uses it? For what purposes? This is something that they do not tell us when registering.
Supermarkets are the kings of loyalty cards. They offer us gifts, discounts, points ... if time and time again and again and again we go through their box. Beyond counting on our loyalty, large distribution companies seek, through these customer cards, to know everything or almost everything about our private life: who we are, how old we are, marital status, preferences, hobbies. Regardless of what the form we fill out says, the periodic purchases we make remain, from then on, forever recorded in our file: whether or not we like chocolate, whether we prefer meat to fish, what coffee, pasta, drinks, preserves, vegetables ... we drink. They know everything.
Companies store this data and use it via marketing to improve their sales. Thus, they know who consumes what and when, being able to make exhaustive profiles of their buyers. From that moment on, they offer us everything we "need" and we buy it delighted. Our private life in the hands of companies becomes a new source of business. We didn't even know about it.
The trace of what we buy
They say that buying in the supermarket of the future will be more practical, comfortable, agile, fast and we will not have to queue or go to the checkout. All thanks, among others, to the technology of identification by radio frequency or RFID tags. Labels that contain a microchip and that record detailed information about the "life" of the product in which they are found. They are like a unique serial number that stores and broadcasts, through an antenna, specific data about that item.
Thus, in the not-so-distant future, it seems, we will be able to enter a supermarket, pick up a "smart" shopping cart, load the shopping list into its database, let it guide us to find these products, give ourselves information about them and calculate the total we have spent. And when leaving, it will not be necessary to go through the checkout, as each product carries one of these built-in labels, a receiving antenna will identify them and the total will be charged directly to our account ... and without queuing. What more can we ask for?
The problem lies, as consumer groups in the United States have pointed out, such as CASPIAN (Consumers Against Invasion of Supermarket Privacy) and EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center), in the control that these systems exercise over people. Nobody prevents, for example, that these labels can continue to accumulate information once outside the supermarket, following each of the steps of the products and of us as consumers.
Today, we find these RFID tags in some supermarket products, which coexist with traditional barcodes. Its cost, however, limits for the moment and in part a greater generalization. Although, according to the National Institute of Communication Technologies and the Spanish Agency for Data Protection it is increasingly common to find them in the labeling of clothing and footwear as well as in systems for identifying pets, transport cards, automatic payment in tolls, passports, among others, putting our privacy at risk.
They want us to believe that shopping centers are synonymous with freedom. Now, Caprabo appeals, in its advertising, to the "free buyer" that we carry within. "We give you everything so that you are free to choose what you like best," he says. However, the freedom to choose is not in the supermarket but outside of it.