Is Sainsbury's snooping on check-out chat?

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Sainsbury's - Minutes Silence

CCTV cameras are one thing. Microphones, recording every word you might say, are something else. Sainsbury's is going ahead with new monitoring listening devices that, it says, will improve staff security at its growing 'Local' convenience stores, especially where staff numbers are low.

Will other supermarkets adopt it? And could the move abuse your privacy?

Big Brother Grocer?

It wasn't possible to talk to the press office at Asda. But we spoke to Morrisons and Tesco, though neither were able to given an official line within our deadline. Sainsbury's, in a statement, said they were not going out of their way to record customer conversations.

"Some colleagues in small stores," says Sainsbury's, "wear a personal safety device, which is only activated when they or other customers are threatened or when a crime is taking place and they need to raise the alarm."

There is some warning to customers on the new development, designed to help prosecute anyone who harasses or abuse staff. Where the technology is used, there are small yellow in-store signs, signalling use of the equipment.

The same personal security system is used by the NHS and is recommended by the police, the grocer claims.

Cash choices

But what of the risk of the devices being used for non-emergency situations? And what safeguards are there in place to ensure the data is not passed onto other agencies? If they have the money to spend on this equipment, why not spend it on more staff?

"We work with reputable third party companies," said a spokesperson. "The information would only be passed on if there was an incident that was to be used as evidence." Sainsbury's says the devices are activated around 30 times a week - currently.

Meanwhile Privacy International claims surveillance companies are thriving in the UK. It claims 77 companies will sell you a surveillance system that aren't subject to regulations - of any sort.

Surveillance companies are increasingly targeting social networks with real-time monitoring of YouTube and Facebook, Privacy International claims. The government is looking to double exports by 2020 to £1 trillion per year and sees 'cyber security' exports as key to this, it says.

10 consumer rights you should know

10 consumer rights you should know