Though not yet carrying the official weight of an executive order, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday New Hampshire’s restaurants now must log the name and phone number of every patron who dines at the eatery.
That sounds like a big step to some, and it is, though maybe not for the reasons they think. Upon seeing a report of the move in The Sentinel, one Keene resident responded: “That is scary, I don’t want to do it. There is enough information given out as to where the outbreaks are, I shouldn’t have to give out personal information.”
Privacy concerns are at or near the fore of many people’s thinking these days. Give out personal information? Never!
Of course, many of these same people think nothing of downloading apps for their phones and tablets that track their every move — both online and physically — and resell that information. Got a weather app? It’s tracking where you are. Have Facebook on your phone? Unless you denied it permission, it has control of or access to your camera, your phone log, your texts, your location, your contacts, your calendar, your microphone and your phone’s storage. How about something more benign, like the Dunkin’ app? It also wants control of your phone, camera, storage and contacts. Why? Because millions of users won’t object. Or consider those rewards cards for stores all over the region: CVS, Price Chopper, Walgreens, Hannaford, gas stations — all promising coupons or other benefits accrued every time you shop. You had to sign up for those, handing over much more information than the state’s new policy is asking for.
Besides, if you order online or by phone, you’re already providing your phone number to restaurants. Delivery? Add in your address. Getting riled about giving a restaurant your phone number is much ado about nothing at this point. We long ago traded our privacy away in exchange for convenience or slight discounts.
There is a very important argument to be made about making people give out their phone numbers to restaurants. But it’s an argument in favor of it.
The idea isn’t to collect personal information on who likes sushi vs. Italian, or to tie spending habits to other personal info. Rather, it’s so health officials will have ready access to who might have been exposed if someone from a restaurant setting tests positive for COVID, something that’s already occurred a number of times in the Granite State.
It’s about contact tracing — one of the buzzwords of epidemiology and a huge factor in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. It’s been a key piece in keeping cases from spreading at Keene State College, for example.
And, we note, it was the restaurant and lodging industry that asked for it, not the government. Why? Because it’s a help to them in remaining open to have any possible viral cases corralled quickly. Without that tool, hot spots could more quickly grow into widespread outbreaks, shutting down businesses, schools and more once again. Many still-struggling businesses would fold, perhaps for good.
Giving your name and phone number to a restaurant ought to be preferable to having no restaurants available at which to dine out.
Other states, including Vermont, took this step some time ago. It’s an easy, harmless step for New Hampshire.
The only real privacy downside to handing over your contact info to a restaurant would be if that establishment then collected that information and sold it to data aggregators for marketing. And that’s something Gov. Sununu ought to address if he does make the policy official through an executive order.
After all, who wants Big Data finding out they went with the extra-large chili-cheese fries?