What PC World are doing with <B>your</B> personal data

21 October 2008

At a time when everyone is screaming at us to keep our personal information secure, you have to wonder why PC World expects us to share our details within earshot of a queue of customers.

Why do they need to know whether your purchase is for personal use or business? Why are you asked for your name and address regardless? And what happens if you tell the pimpled 18-year-old trainee on the till to politely do one?

You'd like to know too, right? Good. I fired off an email to parent company DGSi and asked just that. Here's the reply I received back and I think you'll agree, it's a doozy:

If a customer asks why their name and address is required there is an explanation that appears on the Data Protection notice displayed at till points in store. It is a legal requirement to take the customer's name and address when they purchase any of the items listed below :

Televisions
VCRs
DVD Recorders
Set-top Boxes (Sky, Freeview)
Computers fitted with electronic broadcast cards (TV cards)
TV Cards on their own

The Duty Manager must explain to the customer that we cannot sell the item(s) unless the customer provides a name and address. It will be explained to the customer that if the objection is based upon a wish not to receive direct marketing that this wish will be honoured and recorded. This is done by selecting the "No Marketing" tick box.

If the customer still refuses to give their name and address the sale cannot be completed.

If the customer refuses to give a name and address on a transaction that does NOT contain any of the products listed above, they can opt out of receiving any marketing but we would point out that by giving their details it would assist in tracing a receipt should it get lost, and would ensure they are contacted should their product have an important safety issue.

Read it again, just so you're crystal clear what's going on here: PC World are opting people into marketing mailing lists without permission. The email is quite specific; unless you ask why you need to give the information, nobody will explain what it will be used for.

Worse still, when you submit your details under the Wireless Telegraphy Act (if you're buying a television or recording equipment, the Government want to know about it) that information is being skimmed and used for marketing, under the guise of requiring it by law.

If this is how PC World are operating, it's clearly a violation of the Data Protection Act. So what can we do about it? Well, let's start by complaining. Send an initial email to [email protected]; if you're unhappy with the response, the next stop is the Information Commissioner's Office, an independent authority set up to protect personal information.

What's your experience with PC World? Has the manager or any other member of staff explained why they require your name and address before you've asked?

TOPICS:   Games   Privacy

20 comments

  • Jakg
    Ask the employee to click "No Marketing" (they are told not to tell you of this option but will select it if you ask). They take the name and address so that if you lose the receipt they can still find your purchase, but also so that they can send you stuff in the post (although from what I understand, only DSGi related stuff). There's nothing stopping you making up a name and address, and even if it's blatantly made up (i.e. "The Queen, Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA") the customer advisor won't care. The till system (Eclipse - which is awful) will not let them proceed without an address, though, so you do have to put one in. The "Is this for business or home use?" is only to see how many business customers are using the tills instead of the business centre - i.e. at the store I work at no matter what you say the "no" option is selected as it requires lots of details and makes the store look bad, but then I'd just offer a VAT recipt. As you may of guessed - I work there. I in no way condone what they do, nor will I blindly defend them, but I will post up the "other half" of the store :p Any other questions?
  • Paul S.
    Cheers for the Jakg - good to get the other side of the process from the shop floor rather than corporate HQ. I'm guessing you'd agree that the onus should be on PC World disclosing what they'll use the information for, rather than the customer having to ask? Sure, customers can give false details or request to opt-out of receiving marketing, but then nobody's told they're opting-in... Interesting that you were told not the mention the "No Marketing" option!
  • Jakg
    We are told that "no dialogue is required around the option" (aka don't talk about it), and we are told to only use it if they specifically request it. What it actually does is also like Chinese Whispers - a lot of my co-workers have been told that the information is for the manufacturer's warranty, for example. Morally I must admit this is shady - i.e. if I have a nice customer I either click the box for them or I let it "linger" on the screen so they can ask for it :D For the record - nothing I say is the view of DSGi etc., this is all off my own back.
  • jen
    Wow, very enlightening post - thanks paul and Jakg - next time maybe I should just give them this address hehe: The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF
  • Fi
    I personally found the address taking part absolutely invaluable - I purchased a faulty netbook from someone who was leaving the UK and took it to PC World. All I had was a vague purchase date and the name and address of the original purchaser but they quickly and readily came up with a printed proof of purchase and I was able to get a replacement under warranty without any problem. As others have pointed out, it's not always sinister and quite often it can work to the purchaser's benefit not the retailer's. Although it can be a drag being asked, I know that if (as I often do) mislay an invoice after 6 months or so, I can still take a faulty item back to a store.
  • Paul S.
    PC World make the same point above Fi, and I don't think that anyone would disagree that it's helpful in those situations. I think the problem is what else PC World is doing with the data; they're adding details to mailing lists without permission - as they themselves point out in the quote above - and that's more than just a little naughty.
  • Jakg
    Give them a fake name / address then, and simply stable a piece of paper with "your" name and address to the receipt. If you use the same name and address for all of these things then you won't forget it...
  • HCARter
    Your personal data is for sale at Nine Elms Sunday Market!! There are hundreds of items that have obviously been returned to PC World because they are faulty and these items have a label on them with the name, address and often the phone number of the person who has returned them. You can pick them up and read them if you really want to you can buy them. My advice is, that if you are returning an item to PC World give them false information or your details could end up in box at my local market too.
  • Anonymous
    Strange thing about their data collecting is that it's very inconsistent. I was forced to go to PC World last Sunday in the middle of a disaster recovery operation at a company's premises - to buy some 10/100 switches. Person in front of me buying 1 ream of A4 paper (for £7!!!) and was asked "Is this for Personal or Business use, sir?". I was buying FOUR ridiculously priced 8 port switches (£25 each, but the company was paying since it was the only way to get their business up and running again that day) and they didn't ask anything.....
  • 5 B.
    [...] Laptops Our friends at DSG International, who own Currys and PC World, have this morning announced that like-for-like sales of computer equipment have plummeted by 11 [...]
  • Jakg
    They are meant to ask (some people claim their new PS3 game for business use!), but if a queue appears and the manager isn't watching then you can skip it to save time :p
  • Sir_Tuesday
    "They are meant to ask (some people claim their new PS3 game for business use!), but if a queue appears and the manager isn’t watching then you can skip it to save time :p" Seen/done that too lol
  • DSGI e.
    I am a customer service worked in a pc world store. today i was shouted at for 35 minutes because i could not find proof of purchase for an item normally requiring an address to purchase. this item had developed a fault the gentleman told me his friend had managed to be looked up so he demanded the same level of service. it later emerged he had refused to give name and address and hence was sent home to turn his house upside down in search of the receipt this man was furious and there was nothing i could do to help him. he wanted his money back, not gift cards, not exchanges, i cannot do that without proof of purchase for the most obvious of reasons. how many people actually keep their receipts safely filed away? i don't. i look up close to 200 purchases on a busy day and all those who have played the game wil be served and leave sorted out and happy. those who do not play ball get upset and have to produce a receipt. a credit card bill is rarely enough either as it merely gets an approximate date. and an amount of total transaction. if i type in a product code and a few days bracket i will get hundreds of potential sales records to track through. the only way to be sure is to process the refund until final stage and seeing if the card details it expects match the card im given. for common products i cannot do this, i can only do this for products that don't sell in huge volumes otherwise it is impractical. i also behave as a customer, i have bought much from the store both personally and as a business transaction at the tills. i have given details each time and i have NEVER received marketing, i have received a letter stating that a direct debit had failed and extended warranty may become forfeit i have received a reminder letter each year to book the healthcheck as part of my warranty (both of which would not happen had i ticked the no marketing button) other than that i receive more marketing in my wage slip than in my mail box. the customer details of DSGI could be very valuable if you thought about what customers do buy from us and what types of people might be interested to buy them from us but the company does not sell the details. the only buyers would be our competitors, kinda silly if we did don't you think. yes it is true that we COULD but why would we? the only factor our customer's have in common is that they buy electricals, other than that our customers are all different who would buy it that would not use the information to become a greater threat than us. hcarter it is true that the faulty products have details printed on them, this is, im told, for administrative reasons at the returns destination if a truck gets robbed between store and destination or stock is stolen another time then it is hardly for this information, the types of criminals we're talking about are after the goodies not the addresses and are not very good at it either if they are selling faulty goods with labels stuck to them stating such.
  • DSGI e.
    interesting that such an opinion can be voiced on a site that also insists upon collecting an email address to publish comments. has no one asked the question why? i'm bitter wallet could give a reason based upon tracking/being able to contact those who post but are those not DSGi's reasons or similar to them? why do those online give their own information freely in order to complain about being asked for the same elsewhere? what else does bitter wallet do with our addresses? who knows? why is it that a huge multinational organization get so much grief and yet four complete strangers operating a website probably from their own home(s) are never questioned? (im not making accusations towards bitter wallet here merely commenting on human nature) i suggest the truth is more that people will jump on the band wagon and decide that something is bad without really knowing what they are talking about or even thinking it through. if i was asked who i'd trust more to behave morally/legally it would be a huge multinational company with more to lose in case of a public exposure, its possible that im a complete fool but i think more likely that neither poses a real threat and we should stop bitching unless we have proof that some harm is coming from it.
  • MikeG
    Most companies do it this way. Look at your mobile phone, mobile broadband, credit agreement, sky contract. They all say if you wish to OPT-OUT.... And quite frankly I've bought loads of stuff from pc world domestic and business and haven't received a thing through the post, email, phone, megaphone, text, owl, paper airplane...
  • Another E.
    Similar views to the first DSGI Employee to post. However a little past experiance here. When I first started working for PCWorld I got into the habit of always ticking the "No Marketing" button. A few weeks later I was questionned on this matter by my general manager and was told to stop doing it as I was being monitored on my tick to no tick ratio. Regardless however, the reason information is taken for certain products is 99% for the customers benefit. I have done my time serving people on the customer service desk and them giving me their surname and postcode I am able to narrow down 10,000 results to around 10. The question asked first "Is your purchase for business or personal use?" quite an obvious question. Alot of products sold at PCWorld are essentially for business use and the customer may require a full VAT receipt which they may not know was available unless that question was asked. The usual response I get is "Why, is one cheaper?" I will obviously respond by saying no and informing them that if they require a full VAT receipt we are able to put their companys details on the receipt for their benefit. If you want to make life more difficult for yourself then by all means go to the till, give a fake address and none at all. It will inevitably only waste your time.
  • DeepShip
    There is also one MAJOR consideration here; I recently purchased a Laptop from pcworld 'cash', no cards as I do not believe in them, cash is the ONLY secure way to purchase things. I was looked at as though I had 3 heads when I paid the £850 to the cashier, to which was very dis-heartening, it was though I was looked at as some sort of criminal, they asked for my details to which I always give falsely, my reason? If I go to a computer fair and wish to purchase an entire computer i.e. mobo, ram, cpu, psu etc I DO NOT have to give any details at all, they prefer cash payment and are always cheaper than pcworld. My old laptop died on me and it was at a time I happened to be working on a customers website, this brought on the neccessity to buy another quickly, otherwise I would have gone to my local computer fair and bought one from them. It IS ILLEGAL to collect information unless the buyer expressely gives you their consent, all the government want is your spending habit and if they can prove that your outgoings exceed your incomings then they can investigate you and make you pay more TAX.
  • pellet m.
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  • JB
    PC world. Halifax. UK. I recently purchased a TV from this store and was asked for personal details. When I asked the staff why I needed to submit my details they stated this was for "TV licensing". When I pushed them on what this actually meant the manager had to be called. He argued the same case but I still refused to give details. To his credit he did get round this and didn't make too much fuss. Definitely a marketing ploy and just wish they would tell the truth about our details - especially if they are going to be passed on. need to buy another TV so no doubt I'll have to go through the same scenario next time too.
  • elliot
    p.c world set up a business account without my knowledge. as I was handing my cash over to pay for a laptop I decided to buy a £50 itune card. After placing the money into the till I was told that I couldnt buy the itune card on a business account and that I would have to wait 3 days for my £50 to be credited to my bank account! I pointed out that I hadn't asked for or wanted a business account and they didn't have my bank details as I had paid cash, I just wanted my £50 back. They said they couldn't give me the I tune card or give my money back. I was told I would receive an email asking for my bank details and they would credit my account. This is when I lost my patience and had to be calmed down.

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