Bill targets store 'club cards' - Some fear supermarkets may abuse consumer privacy

Richard Roesler
The Spokesman-Review Staff writer


OLYMPIA, WA-- Some state lawmakers, apparently tired of swiping their supermarket "club cards" to get a discount, are instead trying to take a swipe at the cards.

Several state senators want to force supermarkets to hand out the cards to anyone, even those who refuse to provide their name and other identifying information. They fear the stores could violate consumers' privacy rights and cannot ensure the reliability or accuracy of personal information.

"I don't buy hair coloring, but maybe I don't want anybody to know I'm buying hair coloring," said Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.

"All of us fill those things out, because if you don't, you don't get the discount."

Safeway, QFC, Albertsons, Haggen and other Washington grocery chains require the cards, although they vary in how much information they ask in return. Haggen stores require a name, address, phone number and e-mail.

Albertsons customers can opt to provide virtually no information.

If customers don't want to provide the data, they can shop at a different store, said Jan Gee, a lobbyist representing grocery chains.

The cards are a voluntary thing, she said, offering discounts in exchange for loyal patronage. Customers can also opt out of mailings, e-mails and other offers from the supermarkets, Gee said.

Merton Cooper, a senior citizen activist, hates the cards. When his local Safeway started requiring them, he decided instead to make the drive across town to another store.

"When they put up those big signs -- "No Card Needed" _ hey, that's the place to shop," he said.

But he said there's no reason for government to get involved.

"What the heck are you wasting your time for on this bill?" he told lawmakers at a hearing Friday. "Do we need government to hold our hand?"

Cooper's suggested solution is simple.

"Give 'em a phony name and address," he said.

Lawmakers seemed reluctant to enshrine that advice in public policy.

"Most of us don't live in that world where you give false names to do things," Hewitt said.

The bill, SB 5710, is being sponsored by Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton.

"People should be able to show their loyalty to a store and get that store's discounts without having to share personally identifiable information," she said.

For now, the bill is stuck in the Senate Commerce and Trade Committee, where Chairman Jim Honeyford sounds pretty lukewarm on the idea.

"I think there's some room for work, but I don't know if this is the right approach," the Sunnyside Republican said.

•Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at


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