HomeFoodHow much does your supermarket know about you?

How much does your supermarket know about you?

New research is raising questions about how supermarkets collect and distribute your data.

A report by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) and the UNSW Sydney singles out Woolworths for some questionable practices about how the retail giant deals with the data it collects from consumers through its loyalty programs.

Woolworths supplies its data from its Everyday Rewards program to data analytics business Quantium, which has denied it’s a data broker service, despite being identified as such by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Data brokers collect information from a variety of services to analyse it and license or sell it to other organisations.

Qantium claims it uses a unique code for each customer instead of using their name, but the CPRC is not convinced this protects people’s identities.

According to the report, Quantium claims this process means its business is not in breach of Australia’s privacy laws.

Privacy Act

The CPRC claims such information should be regarded as personal information under the Privacy Act.

“Quantium’s argument is almost certainly that the information is de-identified in its hands since Quantium itself is contractually prevented from learning the name or identifying details of the individual associated with the unique code,” the report states.

“However, Quantium is apparently making its profit by providing extra information about an individual knowing that its clients can identify, influence, and address that individual from the information provided, even if Quantium uses a code for that individual.

“If there is currently doubt that this is personal information in the hands of the data intermediary, urgent legislative clarification is required to avoid a mockery of the Privacy Act’s objectives.”

According to the act, personal information is information or an opinion about an “identified individual”, although this can also include data about a person who is “reasonably identifiable”.

It does not include de-identified information, which is data that has had details such as name and date of birth removed, as well as rare characteristics that could allow the individual to be recognised.

Coded data

Quantium admits that “de-identified” information about a given individual received from various Quantium clients can be linked using a unique code associated with that individual.

“Many companies are trying to argue that the data they use is not actually covered by the Privacy Act when they allocate a unique code to each individual to track and profile them across most areas of their life. This makes a mockery of the objectives of privacy law,” report co-author University of NSW Associate Professor Katharine Kemp said.

The CPRC is calling on the government to update the Privacy Act to better reflect changes in technology and prohibit what it describes as “unfair business practices” and says similar laws have existed in Europe and the United States for decades.

The group wants to outlaw a “blacklist of practices” that make unfair use of aggregated data about consumer behaviour and preferences for commercial purposes. 

A spokesperson from Everyday Rewards told SBS News it did not provide Quantium with its customers’ personal information.

“We have agreed strict rules with Quantium about how our data can be used such that the suggested scenario (of a person being linked through the same unique code being used) would not happen,” she said.

This week’s best specials


Sensible: Darrell Lea Bilby, half price $4.25. I’m all for turning Easter Bunny into Easter Bilby. Nice shiny packaging too, if that counts.

Indulgence: Green Australian Banana Prawns, $15/kg. Good value in anyone’s language, but really ‘banana’ prawns? I guess if you squint a bit they are banana-shaped, but otherwise, nothing to do with bananas. I mean, I can crook my finger into a banana ‘shape’ but that doesn’t mean I want to call it a banana.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Children’s picture books, $4.99. Yet another thing I love about Aldi is classic children’s books at a great price. Two of my favourites are part of the sale this year, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Owl Babies. Snap them up for the grandchildren.

Indulgence: Bubble O’ Bill Easter egg, $8.99. The ice cream crossover we didn’t know we needed to have. I predict it will be awful, but I’ll try it anyway. It had better have bubble gum.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Hot Cross Buns, two packs for $6. I don’t know what the fuss is about hot cross buns coming out at Christmas, they are delicious, and they should be available all year. Especially at this price.

Indulgence: Barramundi Fillets, $17/kg. If you are still hanging on to the tradition of fish for Easter, you could do a lot worse than these easy-to-cook barramundi fillets. A good sturdy fish that holds its shape well, so great on the barbie. Anything is better than that horrible yellow salted cod we had as kids.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: John West Tuna, 95g, half price, $1.45. Never pay full price for tinned tuna; it seems to be on sale every other week. Good little protein bursts and they come in great flavours these days.

Indulgence: Smith Chips, half price, $2.40. Chips are expensive. Half price means I can welcome them back into my home, even if my waistline doesn’t agree.

See the catalogue here.

Do you worry about supermarkets collecting data on you? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Investigation reveals latest products to be hit by ‘shrinkflation’

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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