Saturday, November 28, 2015

Globe Drugstore

Just in case you need something for the indigestion:

"At Walgreens and CVS, a push to collect customer health data by dangling discounts" by Rebecca Robbins, November 23, 2015

Want $50 off your next purchase at Walgreens? You’ll have to run 2,000 miles. Or step on a scale 2,000 times. Or take 2,000 readings of your blood glucose level.

And you’ll have to let the global pharmacy chain track all that data — and give them permission to mine it to target you with ads.

Walgreens this month launched a new smartphone app that customers can sync up wirelessly with their blood glucose and blood pressure monitors so they can feed their personal health information directly into the chain’s data system in exchange for discounts. The app is novel. But the practice is increasingly familiar.

Pharmacies across the US are dangling perks to coax their customers to relinquish all sorts of personal information, ranging from daily fluctuations in their weight to their progress in quitting smoking to their real-time location every minute of the day.

At CVS, you can get $5 back for every 10 prescription refills — if you waive your right to health care privacy protected under the federal health law known as HIPAA. And Rite Aid is experimenting with a service that other retailers are using to collect tons of data: special lockers that you can use to charge your cell phone for free, if you’ll give up your phone number, insurance costs, and shopping preferences.

Drugstores say they’re collecting your data to encourage you to be healthy and save you money. But the growing practice is also a boon for their bottom line because it helps them target their marketing efforts more precisely.

How precisely? If you allow your drugstore to track your location, you might get a text offering a coupon for a specific cough syrup or recommending that you try a neti pot for sinus relief — while you’re standing in the aisle that sells cold and flu medication.

That's creepy.

The trend alarms consumer and privacy advocates.

“It’s the risk of having their data shared more widely than they want — or even stolen.”

Retailers of all stripes have long mined purchase data obtained through their loyalty rewards programs for clues about their customers. What’s new is that drugstores are increasingly taking advantage of the proliferation of “connection points” available to them, according to Alan Lipson, a retail industry marketing manager for the analytics firm SAS.

“Now it’s coming on your smartphone, and they’re texting you, and they’re being more invasive,” Lipson said.

And while a grocery store may know how many boxes of Cheerios you buy in a week or what brand of pasta sauce you prefer, Walgreens can collect far more sensitive data about your health, down to how many milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood you have in your veins. And you have to share an awful lot of those data points to earn the discount.

Welcome to the total surveillance society.

Walgreens vice president Adam Pellegrini wouldn’t disclose how many customers had downloaded the new app, called “Walgreens Connect,” which makes it easier and quicker for customers to transmit their blood pressure and blood glucose readings in exchange for rewards. (They used to have to go to a website to log all their health data.)

But Pellegrini said the company had doled out 2 billion rewards points — the equivalent of 50,000 discounts of $50 — since it started rewarding customers for logging their health data last year.

The new Walgreens app lets you wirelessly send your blood pressure and blood glucose data directly to the pharmacy chain.

When asked how Walgreens was using all that health data, company spokeswoman Mailee Garcia said the company “does not sell personally identifiable information to third parties,” but may sell de-identified information.

Garcia said Walgreens is not currently using health data to market to the customers who provide it. But the app’s privacy policy explicitly states that Walgreens may use customer data to personalize advertising. The store can also combine data entered into the health app with personal information collected by other companies to create a more robust profile of individual customers. 

And remember, all this stuff is accessible to the government.

The policy also gives Walgreens the right to change its privacy terms at any time and says customer data will be sold as an asset if Walgreens is acquired by another company.

All that concerns Michelle De Mooy, a consumer privacy advocate at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

“It’s becoming less and less possible to truly de-identify data, especially when it’s at such a detailed personal level,” she said. “When you’re talking about really specific biometric information like your blood pressure or other metrics like that, the bar needs to be raised very high” in terms of data privacy, security, and transparency, she said.

Rite Aid, which recently agreed to be acquired by Walgreens, is testing out another way of trading perks for customer data. The drugstore is among a number of retailers — including Bloomingdale’s, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom — that have installed stations where customers can securely store and charge their cell phones at no cost while they’re shopping.

Rite Aid spokeswoman Kristin Kellum said the company has not collected or retained any customer information from the program, but that doesn’t mean it can’t in the future. The charging stations are designed to collect information from shoppers, including phone numbers, insurance plan benefits, and shopping preferences  — with the free power source serving as enticement for volunteering the data. 

It's in the fine print, right?

“It’s really important for the retailer to offer something in return for getting information,” said Doug Baldasare, chief executive of the Philadelphia-based startup ChargeItSpot, which installs the phone-charging stations.

The pharmacy chain Duane Reade — a Walgreens subsidiary — is experimenting with another way to reach customers: tracking their physical locations through the GPS on their phones and then pushing out relevant promotions through an app. Duane Reade is testing the tactic in 10 of its New York City stores. Last year, Walmart said it was rolling out the technology in some of its stores, as well, but the company didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on how it’s being used.

Customers don’t even have to be in the stores to get targeted....

“Just turn it off.”


At least they are pro-woman.

"Dorchester man pleads not guilty in ‘cat-fishing’ robberies" by Jan Ransom Globe Staff  November 23, 2015

A 30-year-old convicted drug dealer who was freed as a result of the state drug lab scandal was arraigned in Dorchester District Court Monday on charges he robbed five people at gunpoint in a “cat-fishing” scheme — while wearing a court-ordered GPS bracelet.

It is at least the third time that Rakeem Austin, of Dorchester, has been arrested since his three-year sentence for cocaine distribution was set aside in 2012 after a former chemist at the state drug lab admitted fabricating evidence. He currently has six open cases, not including the recent robberies.

At his arraignment Monday, prosecutors said Austin posed as a woman when he used social networking and dating websites to lure victims. Austin has been arraigned 33 times.

Austin’s attorney argued that his client is not a threat to the community, does not have a gang affiliation, is a longtime Dorchester resident, and disputes his guilt.

“Mr. Austin adamantly denies the allegation,” said attorney David A. Leon. “He was not found with any of the alleged stolen property.”

Dorchester Municipal Court Judge Lisa Grant revoked bail in all of Austin’s other open cases, which included charges for breaking and entering, trespassing, assault and battery, and drug distribution, meaning he will be held until those cases make their way through the court system.

Austin is scheduled to return to court Dec. 18.


Are you afraid to where a GPS?