Not Saussure

November 23, 2006

The Children’s Database… and an answer for Polly

Filed under: civil liberties, Food, UK — notsaussure @ 7:39 pm

First, I’ve come across a very valuable resource for anyone who’s interested in the issued raised by The Information Commissioner’s Study of the Children’s Database:    this is the Database Masterclass,

a blog project designed to give you your very own cut-out’n’keep guide to all of the children’s databases (note the plural). Because it’s complicated, we’ve built it up in steps. Start at #1 and work through to #14.

which does what it says on the label.

This is produced by ARCH, Action on Rights For Children, whose website has detailed information on the proposed database.

Second, some time ago Polly Toynbee, in the course of dismissing concerns about privacy and civil liberties as ‘a middle-class disorder’  made the spectacularly fatuous observation that ‘if Tesco knows what I buy, I am having trouble frightening myself’. 

Not just Tesco, though, Pol.   Have you studied the small print on your Tesco’s loyalty card and are you sure about with whom and under what circumstances you’ve given your informed consent for the data on your shopping to be shared with a third party?   I ask because I do not know; I won’t have a supermarket loyalty card precisely because I’ve in the past worked with a company that writes data mining software (primarily for the financial services industry) and I know how loose such agreements are.  

I raise the question because, notoriously, children’s eating habits, or, at least, whether or not they’re eating their recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day, are one of the many matters to be recorded about them.   So, too, under certain circumstances, are their parents’ drinking habits.      

Natural enough, if someone’s got concerns about how little Tarquin (or, more likely, little Kylie) is doing at school, to want to supplement his information by taking a look at Mum’s shopping habits to make sure she’s not stuffing the poor mite with Turkey Twizzlers when she’s not drinking herself under the table with Tesco’s own brand gin, so’s he can get social services to give her some parenting lessons if necessary.   Easy enough, too — we have the technology — and if she hasn’t actually given her permission, which I suspect she may well have done when she took out the card, that’s probably easily remedied by a Statutory Instrument or two. 

And who but a middle-class privacy and civil liberties freak like me could object?   It’s in the child’s best interests, after all, isn’t it?  


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  1. L’Ombre commented on this today, calling it the nanny state. It’s appalling that these people are at the helm and that the alternative is shaping up not too well either.

    Comment by jameshigham — November 23, 2006 @ 8:01 pm

  2. One way to fritz the loyalty card is to fib on the form that comes with it. Tescos are cross referencing my shopping habits with a completely fictitious profile. I still get the vouchers.

    Comment by Justin — November 23, 2006 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Works if you normally pay in cash, I suppose. They’re still building up a profile of the shopping habits of this 92-year-old, one-legged Albanian you reckon you’ve got living at your address, of course, which is how they know what vouchers to send him.
    Depending on how much shopping you do there, and how good their data mining techniques are, they should be able to anticipate what to send you next; for example, if they’ve twigged to the fact you’ve got young children in the house (or the Albanian has) from the fact you were buying a lot of Pampers and baby food at one point, they should adapt the offers they send as the children grow up.
    The point behind all this is that the banks and supermarkets are all much of a muchness nowadays when it comes to price and and product range. The best way they can compete for market share, they reason, is to offer products and offers that appeal more and more to the particular customer, provided — at least for the banks — he’s the sort of customer they want.
    Certainly in financial services marketing, the idea isn’t to offer a huge range of gold, silver, platinum, plutonium and so forth cards but — at least in theory — to be able to use your customer data to produce a package scored for the individual customer.
    I’ve nothing against this in principle, except that it makes life a lot more difficult for poor people because the banks can more easily spot people whose custom they don’t really want, but the idea of what a well-meaning government could do with all this data, in our own best interests, of course, is downright scary.

    Comment by notsaussure — November 23, 2006 @ 9:39 pm

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