Friday, March 12, 2010

CDC uses shopper-card data to trace salmonella

As they scrambled recently to trace the source of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds around the country, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention successfully used a new tool for the first time — the shopper cards that millions of Americans swipe every time they buy groceries.

With permission from the patients, investigators followed the trail of grocery purchases to a Rhode Island company that makes salami, then zeroed in on the pepper used to season the meat.

Never before had the CDC successfully mined the mountain of data that supermarket chains compile. 


OK, there's good and bad in this one... tracking salmonella, good... potentially tracking me and my habits, bad.

I hesitated for a long time before finally getting one of those grocery cards. I didn't like the idea that my food preferences could be tracked or that I'd be getting a lot of targeted junk mail. I got over it. I love my little Kroger card.

However, I'm still not thrilled with the idea that someday the food police could come after me. Can you imagine how these cards COULD be used?

Let's say I develop diabetes. The new Obamacare is passed and my doctor wants to make sure I'm eating right, my insurance wants to make sure I'm doing what the doctor ordered... So I'm buying Twinkies for the kids when they come over, not for me Mr. Doctor... Ah, but you know that you are creating an unhealthy environment for yourself and you are contributing to the obesity of a minor. Slap, slap.

Who knows where this could go...

I feel fairly safe 'cause I gave 'em all incorrect information when I got my card. I do that as a rule on everything I sign up for these days. Yep, I am one of those bad types who's skewing all the data. To make it even worse, I have two different cards for some stores, hee hee, ha ha... You should see my key chain.

Just as an aside, I understand giving bad info is a good idea. I read somewhere, in passing, that it's possible for crooks to somehow use those cards to find you or do some nasty stuff to you or your credit or something. I'd have focused a bit more on that one if I happened to have been affected.

Someday that last paragraph may come back to haunt me. If the food police, Obamacare, and our government all come together in a potential 1984 scenario, I'm up a creek. Of course, given my propensity to blog against Big Brother, Obamacare, and similar, I'll probably be in a gulag somewhere already so my little handy-dandy cost-saving shopping cards won't matter anyway.

- jmd
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