With the COVIDSafe app having had limited success so far, the NSW government has instead used loyalty card data from supermarket Woolworths to track down thousands of people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 in one of the state’s biggest clusters.
The Australian Financial Review reported on Thursday that Woolworths’ Everyday Rewards customer loyalty system was used to assist in the tracing of the Berala cluster, after initial contract tracing efforts identified customers and staff at the BWS store in December.
“Retailers’ customer loyalty schemes may prove to be more valuable at keeping the coronavirus in check than the federal government’s COVIDSafe app,” journalist Sue Mitchell wrote.
According to the AFR, Woolworths was able to use the data to identify who was shopping in their stores and when.
The company emailed customers telling them about their potential exposure, and then forwarded their information — name, phone number and email address — to NSW Health.
At the request of NSW Health, customers who scanned their Everyday Rewards card or signed in via a QR code at these stores on relevant dates had their contact details passed on securely to NSW Health for contact tracing purposes,” a Woolworths spokesman told the AFR on Wednesday.
“This allowed NSW Health to send urgent and direct public health advice to customers.”
The use of the data, as useful as it was for COVID, raises questions about the privacy of Woolworths’ customers and whether they expected their information to be provided in this way.
“We may collect, hold, use and disclose your personal information for other purposes which are within reasonable expectations or where permitted by law,” it reads.
Even still, some customers may not have been aware that the company could or not have wanted the information of their whereabouts and contact details given to the government.
To be fair, the point of the scheme is to let the surprisingly tech-happy Woolworths analyse and use your data.
But giving that data to the government is a step further, and one that some may not be too happy about setting a precedent for.