Grocery discounter Aldi in London: The dark side of digitization

2 min
Tags: Aldi QR-Code London digitization Discounter surveillance

It is clear to anyone who pulls out their smartphone just once a day that digitization has long permeated all areas of life. In the past, technological progress was always accompanied by an increase in prosperity.

But for some years now, attentive observers have been looking at developments in this area with concern. There are increasing signs at many levels that the tightrope walk between the degree of technologization and the digital surveillance state is very narrow. The German food discounter Aldi now provided an example of this tightrope walk with the opening of a QR code store in London.

Farewell to barrier-free shopping: Access restrictions at Aldi

A look across the English Channel to the UK opens up a view of a digital future in which barrier-free shopping will no longer be possible in the long term. Since the beginning of June, a video has been circulating on YouTube showing an "Aldi Shop & Go" store in the London district of Greenwich. In these stores, there are no longer human personnel at the checkout; instead, payment is made automatically by debiting the account or crediting the app.

So far, so good. If you're in a hurry and don't have enough cash on you, this is a quick way to get groceries. But the Aldi store in London sets questionable new standards. Before a customer can access sausage, rolls, cheese and vegetables, he or she must scan a QR code. Only after this has been accepted by the system do the barriers open and the store can be entered. If the system catches on, the German discounter will herald the end of barrier-free shopping and the age of the transparent customer.

QR code instead of bar code: The pilot project is already up and running

Replacing the old familiar barcode on products in supermarkets with a QR code is the goal of the company "GS1 Germany". To this end, the company has launched a pilot project that is being tested in 20 countries worldwide. In Germany, the discounter Aldi is taking part in the field trial.

The company's argumentation for the conversion follows the familiar pattern that this model only benefits consumers. According to this, all information relating to the product, such as the manufacturer, supply chains and best-before date, will be available digitally. However, this is already the case now, but in analog form as a print on the product. There is no added value for the consumer. According to the company, the QR code for food is to be introduced nationwide from 2027.

Big Brother at the food discounter

"Aldi Shop & Go" in London shows the direction in which the train of digitization is heading. Every customer is identified by scanning the QR code when entering the store. Anonymous shopping was yesterday. While shopping, all products with a QR code must be scanned and then end up in a digital shopping cart. Payment is cashless after another scan of the QR code.

Big Brother is then a reality in the discount grocery store, because Aldi knows exactly who bought what, when, where, and at what price. Whether the usual assurances that follow that the data is deleted immediately after payment, never merged and never analyzed is credible is a matter for each customer to judge for themselves.

Those who do not participate remain outside the door

In addition to data protection issues, the Aldi project also raises ethical and legal questions. What happens if people refuse to download the app? Does free access to food remain categorically blocked for these people? The dark sides of digitization are becoming increasingly apparent.