Monday, January 23, 2006

Costco protects customer privacy

Discount membership outlet, Costco has taken a stance against Big Brother with their refusal to hand over member names from a single store in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada to the British Columbia government. BC taxing authorities are attempting to track BC residents who cross into Alberta to purchase goods from a regional shopping area to avoid a seven percent BC provinical sales tax.

This issue is a standard battle anywhere between border towns with no tax beside towns or counties / provinces with higher sales taxes. Sales will always be higher in the lower taxation zones.

But this long running battle between Alberta and British Columbia underscores a privacy issue in dramatic form. Wherever data exists, government will attempt to demand access to that data for law enforcement and revenue enhancement. The BC government saw customer data at Costco as a rich source of income. Just look for BC residence addresses in the database and collect provincial sales tax from their purchases in Alberta.

Costco rightly refused to hand over member information and the BC government backed down - but the scuffle highlights an issue of privacy which will not easily go away. Anywhere information exists, some entity will want access to that information. This was highlighted last week when the US Justice Department demanded a million random web sites from Google's database, along with a week worth of search queries.

Google refused and claimed the demand was "overreaching" and "burdensome" as well as threatening the privacy of their users. I've stated elsewhere that no private user information was demanded or delivered by the other three search engines when they complied with similar DOJ demands. I believe the privacy issue is a moot point in that story.

But I believe strongly that where information exists, someone is going to want access to it - be it Government, law enforcement, hackers, criminals or nosy neighbors. Because businesses are demanding more information from customers, and storing more information from transactions, including credit card information and other personally identifiable data on each individual transaction - customers rightly demand that those businesses will protect that information.

Google has been publicly supported by the national press in the US on it's decision to fight the feds on those demands for random search queries and web site lists from the Google database. Costco is now taking the correct stand in protecting British Columbia residents from unreasonable access to customer data by government.

Businesses should continue to take this stance worldwide and continue to protect user data from unreasonable access to private financial data by any entity, including bad guy hackers seeking credit card and other sensitive info, governments seeking transactional data or tracking financial activity, or nosy neighbors seeking juicy gossip. Those businesses holding substantial sensitive information on customers owe it to those customers to prevent access to that information by any source.

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posted by RealitySEO at 1:06 PM


Blogger No Privacy said...

That's nice of them, however, they're now interested in using fingerprint scanning. Check my blog for story and link.

6:32 AM  

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