Retailers may soon be asked to not demand customer phone numbers


May 24, 2023

Shambhavi Anand, Economic Times

New Delhi, May 24, 2023

Retailers and shopkeepers will soon not be allowed to seek phone numbers of their customers while generating bills, according to a diktat by the department of consumer affairs, a senior government official said.

Taking the numbers of customers without their “express consent” is a breach and encroachment of privacy, said the official, without wanting to be identified.

The official added that such a move will be classified as an unfair trading practice defined as any business practice or act that is deceptive, fraudulent, or causes injury to a consumer.

Most large retailers mandatorily take down buyers’ phone numbers while generating the bill for their purchases and use them for loyalty programmes or sending push messages.

The move has come after the department received several complaints from consumers about retailers insisting on getting their phone numbers. This will be communicated to all retailers through industry bodies representing retailers soon, the official added.

While the implementation of these new rules may require some adjustments and initial costs for retailers, it is seen as a necessary step towards protecting consumer privacy and ensuring fair business practices in the retail sector, said experts.

While retailers will have to rework their systems in case this becomes a regulation, this won’t stop them from asking for phone numbers of consumers as their loyalty programmes run on these numbers, said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy firm.

He added that retailers also use numbers for sending e-invoices and so this could have a cost impact and environmental impact.

(Published in Economic Times)

Finely Targeted Advertising on Cable TV – Shades of Big Brother?

Devangshu Dutta

March 5, 2009

New York Times reports that Cablevision will provide targeted ads to selected homes based on a variety of criteria. (Cable Companies Target Commercials to Audience).

Department store pioneer John Wanamaker is reported to have said that half his advertising was wasted, but complained that he didn’t know which half it was.

With such targeted advertising on cable, he would have not only been able to tell which half was being wasted, but would have also been able to reschedule it to reach the right audience and avoid the waste. Cable companies with a good consumer database and analytics should be able to figure out who would be watching what shows, and target the ads accordingly (e.g. late-afternoon may trigger fast food ads in households with kids).

The article says: “…Cablevision will use its targeting technology to route ads to specific households based on data about income, ethnicity, gender or whether the homeowner has children or pets…viewers may not realize they are seeing ads different from a neighbor’s. But during the same show, a 50-something male may see an ad for, say, high-end speakers from Best Buy, while his neighbors with children may see one for a Best Buy video game.”

This could, of course, sound very creepy to an average customer who doesn’t want to know that he or she is being tracked.

If fact, the article quotes Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based civil liberties group, as saying that the company needs to show that the information “can’t be reverse-engineered to find the names of individuals that were watching particular shows”.

But let’s face it, in today’s environment, if we’re online or on a communications device, there is a good chance that we can be / are being tracked.

We can expect the tug-of-war about consumer privacy to continue, but this is too seductive a tool for advertisers to ignore, especially in a downturn.