Tesco and Boots accused of potentially breaking data protection laws over secret filming

Some of the UK’s biggest retailers including Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been accused of filming shoppers without their knowledge of permission, potentially breaching data protection laws.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is examining the claims made by The Daily Mail regarding retail behavioural analysis firm SBXL.

Its investigation found that major retailers including Tesco, Boots, Co-op and Sainsbury’s, alongside brands like Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and L’Oreal had hired the firm to film customers while shopping in order to examine their behaviour and “manipulate” them to spend more.

During an interview with an undercover reporter, SBXL’s sales chief can be heard explaining that these customers do not know they are being filmed, and that cameras had been installed in Boots shelves to film people trying on makeup.

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This is despite a spokesperson for SBXL telling The Daily Mail it had “never carried out covert recording of customers in stores” and research was “only ever carried out with the full co-operation from the public involved”.

Some of the footage was also reportedly uploaded to YouTube, with some videos remaining in place for over eight years.

In response to the report, ICO director of investigations Steve Eckersley said: “The Daily Mail’s investigation has highlighted concerns about the use of CCTV. We will be examining the material provided and making appropriate inquiries.”

Boots also responded stating:  “When conducting research for Boots, SBXL were under a contractual obligation to comply with all data privacy laws, keep any information gathered confidential and destroy it after the project had finished.

“Clear signage and highly visible cameras were in place in the area of the store where the SBXL market research was happening and at no point were hidden cameras used, nor was filming hidden from customers. Further, all customer data was intended to be used for research purposes only.

“We work hard to ensure our processes are robust but whenever anything happens we will learn from it to make them tighter still. We’ve been let down by SBXL who have breached the terms of their contract with us by using our research clips in their promotional material and as a result we will not be working with them again.”

Other retailers mentioned in the study like Sainsbury’s said they had “never had a direct relationship with” the company, and were assured “they have deleted all data captures in Sainsbury’s stores”.

Tesco added that it “does not covertly film customers in stores nor would we allow any other company to do so”, while Co-op said that it only used the company for two limited trials and that “both times clear customer signage was in place, in line with the Market Research Society’s Code of Conduct rules and Data Protection legislation.”

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