Woolies Wants To Scan Your Data & Go

Image: Woolworths

This week, Woolworths rolled out its new Scan&GO payment system to more stores within the Sydney CBD.

Originally trialled at Mona Vale, more customers can now scan their chosen items anywhere in a store with their app and 'tap off' at a dedicated kiosk before leaving the store.

It pretty convenient, but there is a catch. You have to hand over a lot of personal data to participate.

This move isn't the first odd move by Woolworths this year, which has been slipping Google Home Minis into online shopping orders for no reason.

Since we first reported on this back in February it has become even more frequent.

It makes some sense due to the fact it has voice compatibility with the Woolworths Online ordering system. But quietly adding smart assistants with listening capabilities into peoples homes without them asking for them, sure, is a vibe.

As for Scan&Go, the new self service system requires customers to download a dedicated Scan&Go app. However, to be able to utilise the app you are required to be a member of the Woolworth's Rewards program.

The login screen for the Scan&Go app

It has all of the hallmarks of most rewards programs — members-only discounts and earning points for every dollar you spend to for discounted shops. It even has the ability to convert savings to Qantas points or put it away for Christmas.

It's also similar to other reward programs in asking for a whole lot of customer data. To sign up for Woolworths Rewards you are required to hand over your name, address, phone number, email address, data of birth and gender. Fortunately, you can choose 'I'd rather not say' as an option for the latter.

Alternatively, you can sign up with Facebook, something we don't tend to recommend considering the sheer amount of data breaches it has had over the last twelve months alone.

As you can see below, all of these fields are mandatory for sign up.

The premise of the Scan&Go service is convenience — you can use your phone to scan your products, pay at the kiosk and leave.

It isn't as if customers just wander out, which could be a potential shoplifting concern. Tapping off and payment is required and you don't need a customer's date of birth and home address for this functionality.

While asking for this much information is unsurprising for a rewards program, it's worth questioning why it is needed for Scan&Go.

Speaking to Gizmodo Australia, a Woolworths spokesperson made assurances that customer data is safe in the hands of Woolworths.

"We have more than 11 million Rewards members across Australia and we're always looking for ways to make shopping more convenient for them. Scan&Go aims to do just that and we're pleased to offer it exclusively to Rewards members in our trials.

We've seen good uptake among existing Rewards members in Double Bay, which is a reflection on the popularity of the program with our loyal customers.

Finally, linking Scan&Go with Rewards accounts helps us protect consumers and the system from fraudulent actors."

Gizmodo also asked whether there was a plan by Woolworths to offer Scan&Go to non-Woolworths Reward members in the future but that question went unanswered. We have also since asked why so much data is required for this system.

But while data breaches aren't uncommon, this isn't the only potential issue.

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While having the option to connect a Woolworths Rewards card makes sense, making it a mandatory barrier to entry seems like an unnecessary way to boost sign ups for the program and gather a lot of free purchase-related data.

Of course, one can make the argument that you can keep your shopping and data private by simply not using Scan&Go. Better yet, use cash so your purchasing can't be tracked by a grocery chain at all.

But in 2019, that's not a good enough excuse when it comes to technology. Sacrificing data and privacy for convenience and modernity shouldn't be the accepted norm.

People should have an intrinsic right to enjoy the benefits of the modern world without revealing all of their private information alongside their purchasing history.

Perhaps it's idealistic to hope for a world where utilising technology in everyday life won't become a relentless exercise in targeted marketing. But one can hope and ask companies to do better.

This article was updated to include a longer response from Woolworths

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