Oh god, they know!

I was more than a little annoyed one night last week (or was it earlier this week?) when I had to get off my usual spot on the couch (dislodging a cat or two in the process) and scurry upstairs to answer my cell phone, which is also our “home phone.” I rarely get calls; my phone is rarely where I am. Most often it’s in my purse or on the charger upstairs, and I’m downstairs, hence the running and swearing.

When I heard a recorded voice, my reaction was even worse. Not fit for print. But before I hung up, I managed to discern that the call was from Giant Eagle (a local grocery store chain) about a recall of frozen hash browns. Seems their records showed that I “may have purchased this item” in the past.

It was helpful and creepy at the same time. (Did Big Brother also know what color underwear I was wearing?)

It’s finally happened. After several years of laying low (lying low? I’m too lazy to check), the Advantage Card has struck. That clever little “save me a few cents on groceries and gas” gimmick that also lets Giant Eagle track my every purchase. I always knew it COULD, but it creeps me out to know it really DOES.

Yes, that half-full/half-empty bag of hash browns is in my freezer. I bought it many months ago (and no, I don’t plan to throw it out now, having survived quite fine after eating half the bag. But, oh geez, you know if I’ve had it in there too long, don’t you? Has it expired? Am I a bad person if I serve it to my family or friends?)

The whole thing made me more than a little glad I don’t shop at Big Bird all that much, my budget relegating me to Wal-Mart most of the time. And I’m glad no one is tracking my purchases at Target or Lowe’s or HD. (Although Pet Smart knows what the cats like, thanks to its discount card program.) And how long is that information on record anyway? Do I still have to feel guilty about all that after-Christmas candy we bought on clearance a couple years ago? Will you tell my husband about that bag of potato chips I bought and ate without sharing?

And what’s next? Will you let me know when I’m running low on Tazo Green Ginger? Will you inform the health care police (probably mentioned on page 796, section 214, subsection iii of the health care bill) if I purchase too much pop or too little spinach? Or politely suggest I lay off the potato chips and offer me some baby carrots (on special this week) instead?

Yes, I know it’s a mixed blessing. Had it been an actual emergency, I’m sure I would have been instructed where to turn in my area for more news and information, and I’m sure I would have felt more grateful. Turns out, I heard about the recall on the news a couple hours later. Or I would have read it online the next morning. But I know a lot of people don’t do that, and the call may have been their only warning of a potential danger.

Does it mean I’ll stop using my Advantage Card? No, I’m cheap like that. But I also have a little secret — most of the stuff I’m buying at GE isn’t for me, but for my 91-year-old mother! And don’t be surprised if the ol’ demographic profile gets shaken up a bit now and then…a can of chew, some ham hocks, a pack of diapers. Trust me, you only THINK you know me…

It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were
in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing
could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety,
a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the
suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case,
to wear an improper expression on your face…was itself a punishable
offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime.
~ George Orwell,


  1. robbie said,

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    That is creepy, yet not surprising. I receive an annual American Express accounting of my purchasing activity, neatly categorized and itemized and I’m sure it’s not just for my use! These cards are very dangerous. How do you think the census people know SO much about your household before they ring the door bell? Someone famous stated years ago about the freedom we sacrifice under the guise of safety…..was it Ben Franklin? How true it is!

  2. Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    GREAT article Chris! Laughed out loud at “will you tell my husband” line. And so true! Personal invasion aside (cause, at some point these days, I have to give up worrying about something), I think GE’s advantage card program is thee single best marketing program . . . ever. Free gas? I don’t care if they tell everyone how much ice cream I buy 🙂 haha

    Nicely done. Really enjoyed this.

  3. Facie said,

    Friday, January 22, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I was thinking what you were when I read about the recall.

    There is note at the bottom of every one of my GE receipts, practically begging me to update my personal info. I ignore it, but I am almost torn now. You just never know. But maybe that is the problem. Sigh.

  4. WritingbyEar said,

    Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    I’m sure I’m more than a little hypocritical because I also have $0.40 savings on gas on said Advantage Card that I’m currently runnin’ my tank down to take full advantage of. BUT, I’ve so far refused to get E-ZPass for the turnpike (and the toll road right beside my house) because I don’t like that it tracks your coming and going and, potentially, whether you got somewhere too quickly and oh by the way, here’s your speeding ticket…

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