Th­ese Boots were made for stalk­ing

This is­sue Ken is putting the boot(s) into…

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Rec­om­men­da­tions are part and par­cel of on­line shop­ping. I’m sure you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced them. Add a tube of Po­los to your bas­ket and you’re likely to be in­formed that cus­tomers who bought mints also bought a dozen dif­fer­ent types of cure for hal­i­to­sis and a copy of Dat­ing af­ter 50 for Dum­mies (which is ac­tu­ally a real book, £15.99 on Ama­zon:

Th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions are some­times use­ful, some­times amus­ing and some­times down­right em­bar­rass­ing.

Here’s some­thing that hap­pened to me last win­ter. I went Ama­zon shop­ping for a match­ing woolly hat and scarf. In­nocu­ous enough, you might think. But at some point I made the mis­take of click­ing a picture of a bal­a­clava that popped up as a rec­om­men­da­tion. I didn’t want a bal­a­clava but I just found the thumb­nail im­age faintly amus­ing. Then idle cu­rios­ity saw me click another rec­om­men­da­tion, and then another, and yet another, un­til I got bored and went back to hats and scarves.

For weeks af­ter­wards my Ama­zon page was lit­tered with rec­om­men­da­tions for bal­a­clavas and — worse — some cu­ri­ous­look­ing rub­ber masks the pur­pose of which I’d rather not know. Th­ese ap­peared be­cause, I as­sume, they were bought by some peo­ple who also bought bal­a­clavas. More­over, be­cause of the way the mod­ern web works, th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions be­gan to ap­pear as ad­verts on ran­dom web­sites. Sure enough, one day a rec­om­men­da­tion for some funny face-wear popped up on my screen just as Mrs Rigsby brought me a cup of tea. That morn­ing, our elevenses pleas­antries were rather awk­ward.

All of this brings me to Boots. Re­mem­ber when Boots was called Boots the Chemists? It was set up in the 1800s by farm worker John Boot, orig­i­nally to hawk tra­di­tional reme­dies like herbs and leeches. Mr Boot later be­came a bona fide chemist, and his rep­u­ta­tion is un­tainted.

But the mod­ern Boots is a play­thing in the hands of in­vest­ment bankers, and their lat­est money-mak­ing wheeze — com­ing to a store near you in time for Christ­mas — is an app that tracks your lo­ca­tion and buzzes your smart­phone with per­son­alised of­fers the mo­ment you walk through the door.

This kind of tech­nol­ogy isn’t new. Su­per­mar­ket loyalty cards, for ex­am­ple, let stores gather loads of in­for­ma­tion about you and your shop­ping habits. In ex­change, you get an oc­ca­sional few pen­nies off your bill.

But this lat­est idea from Boots feels a step too far. I’m just about OK with the con­cept that a shop might have gath­ered enough data about me to know that in win­ter I reg­u­larly suf­fer from a dodgy tummy, and so sends me some dis­count vouch­ers through the post. But I cer­tainly don’t want my smart­phone sound­ing a klaxon ev­ery time I wan­der past the di­ar­rhoea pills in Boots.

In fact, to me Boots’ in­ven­tion feels like one of those over­bear­ing sales­men who’s on top of you as soon as you walk into the store. Ex­cept this ped­dler lives in your back pocket and makes your back­side vi­brate the mo­ment he smells a sale.

I liked Boots when it was Boots the Chemist. But Boots the Snoops? Not so much. The days when Boots was run by a farm­hand flog­ging quack cures are long gone. But I think I’d pre­fer the naive be­lief in snake oil to this era of leeches who want to grow fat by suck­ing my per­sonal in­for­ma­tion and move­ments.

Boots’ lat­est mon­ey­mak­ing wheeze is an app that buzzes your phone with of­fers when you walk in

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