How grocery stores are becoming data brokers

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From Facebook and Instagram to Amazon Prime, most U.S. consumers have an online footprint that is growing daily.

Email addresses, phone numbers, shopping habits, birthdays and more are all being rolled into a monetizable data profile the companies and data brokers are using to better understand the needs and wants of consumers. Often this is without the knowledge or informed consent of the consumers.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania found 79% of Americans feel they have little control over what marketers can find out about them. This is what experts are calling “data fatigue,” the idea that many consumers know their data is being collected but feel there is little they can do to stop it. The same study found that more than half of respondents did not know the full extent of what companies can do with their data. Now that data acquisition model is moving offline, to the aisles of your local grocery chain.

“Retailers today are doing just about everything they can to get as much information about you as possible, because that’s a whole new revenue stream for them,” said R.J. Cross, director of Public Interest Research Group’s Don’t Sell My Data campaign. “Almost every single company that you’re shopping at today is in the business of selling your data, and you and your data are their latest product.”

In 2021 the data broker market was valued at an estimated $319 billion. That value is expected to pass $545 billion by 2028. In the past retailers would buy data from data brokers to get a better idea of consumer trends. Now, they’re cutting out the middleman, collecting consumer data directly through things such as loyalty programs, location tracking, app usage, and even digital receipts.

“My face is part of the data that’s being captured, my behavior, and all of that gives off many more pieces of information about me, my age, my gender, my ethnicity,” said Refive founder and CEO Mitul Jain. “And all of these pieces of information can then again be combined together with all these other little tidbits that I’ve been leaving behind from my shopping journey.”

Watch the video above to learn how retailers are collecting and using consumer data and why the U.S. government is now stepping in.