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Risk

7/11/2009
08:16 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Target Requires Driver's License Scan For Restricted Items

Sure, I traded my smoking habit for a Nicorette gum habit, but does that mean I should be forced to have my driver's license physically swiped through the register to buy an age restricted item? I don't think so, but retailing giant Target certainly does.

Sure, I traded my smoking habit for a Nicorette gum habit, but does that mean I should be forced to have my driver's license physically swiped through the register to buy an age restricted item? I don't think so, but retailing giant Target certainly does.Almost exactly one year ago I went to a Target store to pick up a box of Nicorette gum, which I needed in a hurry. When at the register, the clerk asked to see my driver's license to verify age. Much to my shock at the time, rather than just check my age, the clerk swiped the magnetic strip through the register. When I asked what data was captured, she couldn't answer. Not good. I blogged about the incident here, and followed up here (after Target called to assure me that only date-of-birth information is captured from the magnetic strip.).

Since that time, I've hardly bought any age restricted items at Target, but the few times I have, my simply telling the clerk my age and showing the card, without actually letting them scan it, sufficed. It was typically a hassle I tried to avoid, as neither close-by CVS or Walgreens are so pestering on the matter.

Today was different as the Target clerk informed me that just presenting the license was no longer good enough and that: The new system requires that the driver's license actually be scanned.

I don't think so. I mean, really, I have an easier time buying liqueur at the state store than nicotine-laced gum at Target.

Despite Target's assurance that only the date-of-birth is captured, I'm not allowing them to physically scan my driver's license. The strip on that license contains name, address, phone number, date-of-birth, eye color, hair color, weight, driving restrictions, and driver's license number. That's just too much data to put at risk.

Besides, how do you know that any given retailer (not just Target) doesn't change their policy and start collecting your address, your phone number, and whatever else they want? What do they do with it? Would they sell it? Too many questions, and once your data is collected, it's out of your control.

What's more, if history is any indication, when retailers' -- or any organization for that matter -- find their financial situation in dire straights one of the first things to go out the window are their privacy policies. They'll sell whatever they can to stay afloat, keep creditors at bay, or avoid or finance their bankruptcy. The most recent example is the failure of Clear -- those who used the service still don't know for sure how their data will be used, or if it will be destroyed. Forrester's Andrew Jaquith has an excellent post, TSA's Muddy Response to the Clear Shutdown, that is worth a read.

That's why, whenever a retailer asks to swipe my driver's license, the answer is no and the product is going back to the shelve. They're doing their own CYA at the expense of yours.

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