Using shopping card data to manage food safety

As a card-carrying, tinfoil hat member of the privacy zealots group, I’m not a big user of shopping cards.  Today I read about what can only be described as a meaningful use case for those cards.

The CDC used shopping card data to track down a salmonella outbreak.  They did it in exactly the right way by starting with the victims, getting permission and then looking for high risk foods in their purchases.

Privacy advocates rightly worry that some overeager politicians will use this to make shopper tracking mandatory.  The problem is that the wrong people control the data.

I would love to have a dataset containing every purchase I’ve made, right down to the last box of cereal.  I’m sure that data could be mined usefully.  By me.  Not by my local supermarket.  And yes, when the CDC asks, I’d like to be able to answer their query and even given them anonymized subsets of data they can use to correlate with other people.

Our future will be full of data.  The key is to make sure that the collections of data are open, accessible to more than just the powers-that-be and properly controllable by the individuals whose privacy is most affected by the data: you and me.