King County using customer grocery store data to target pet owners, send licensing notices

King County said for the last four years it's used data companies to target tax payers, in this case pet owners to send pet licensing notices. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - A King County letter that ended up in the mailboxes of thousands of pet owners is raising concerns over privacy.

The letter told pet owners to license their pets or face a $250 fine.

"It feels weird to me, it feels like they're kind of snooping around in a place where they shouldn't be," said dog owner Chris Lee.

Turns out for the last four years, King County has been using data companies to target specific taxpayers, or in this case pet owners. That means every time customers swipe those rewards cards, they're gathering data.

"This is kind of standard marketing practice or procedure that people use," said Cameron Satterfield, from King County Animal Services.

The letter ended up in nearly 40,000 mailboxes.

"This is not King County going and grabbing this data, you know, big brother watching what you buy at the grocery store," said Satterfield.

Instead, the county said they pay the company who pays stores such as Safeway and QFC for access to customer data contained in every one of those reward card swipes.

"This is a cost effective and we feel, less intrusive way of reminding people of the requirement and benefits of pet licensing," said Satterfield.

However, Safeway says King County is wrong,

Safeway tells KOMO News that it does not provide data on its customers to third parties.

The county admits more transparency is needed, but says the mailers work. Just last year they brought in more than $100,000 in new pet licenses.

That's success even dog owners agree on.

"You just get kind of numb to your privacy being invaded on a daily basis," said dog owner Margaret Bouniol. "I just don't get that concerned. Now if they were looking at my bank records and all sorts of more personal stuff than my dog, then maybe I might be."

The county said a disclaimer will be added to their next letter.

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