Magazine article Marketing

Is Boots Taking Advantage?

Magazine article Marketing

Is Boots Taking Advantage?

Article excerpt

Boots is looking at storing confidential information about customers on itsAdvantage card. Julian Lee asks if consumers are ready to hand over such details, and how would they be used?

You're in your local Boots paying for your toiletries. As the assistant swipes your Advantage card, she politely asks whether you're still suffering from that nasty little rash that started a couple of months ago.

It's not that she remembers you, but that the card holds your medical history along with your shopping patterns. Boots announced last week that it was looking at including medical histories and even social security data on the card which might, for example, automatically say whether holders were entitled to free prescriptions.

If Boots were to pursue the idea, not only would it be making medical history by combining medical records with commercial data, but it would also be sailing close to the wind on data protection law.

Such a move has alarmed a number of agencies charged with looking out for the consumer, not least the Data Protection Registrar.

DPR director of operations John Woulds says it would be of grave concern to the consumer watchdog.

"Medical records are bound by confidentiality and I can't think why a commercial company such as Boots should hold these. We'd have to look very closely if such sensitive material was put into the hands of a high street retailer," he says. "One can only guess that the reason [Boots] is storing the data would be to analyse it for its own purposes."

He points out that the new data protection act, due to be introduced next year, is unlikely to tolerate such a union.

The British Medical Association is also perturbed. "We would want to see that confidentiality is valued and that nothing embarrassing can be retrieved by anyone else who is not authorised by the patient," says a BMA spokeswoman. …

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