Shoppers are outraged after being filmed by researchers to examine their buying behaviour at some of Britain's biggest high street stores.
The Daily Mail reported that Tesco, Boots, Sainsbury's and Co-op all commissioned SBXL, a behavioural analysis agency, to secretly film customers in their aisles.
YouTube videos on SBXL's public channel showed footage of customers in stores, some of which had remained on the channel for eight years, according to the newspaper.
Silkie Carlo, the Director of Big Brother Watch told talkRADIO’s Mike Graham: “It’s really concerning and I think it’s part of a much bigger picture than we have in this country with ever encroaching surveillance and being watched all the time for different purposes.
“Here we see customers being treated frankly like guinea pigs in experiments.
“We’re already used to shops and supermarkets watching us through security cameras but the idea of cameras actually being hidden in shelves watching how we’re picking up products, looking at them and putting them down and then seeking to manipulate our behaviour that’s a lurch forward to something a bit more disturbing.”
Despite this SBXL said adequate signage was in place and consent was sought from customers.
The Mail claimed SBXL's sales chief, Andy Bromley, showed an undercover reporter footage taken in UK shops, telling her: "These people don't know they're being filmed.”
A spokeswoman for SBXL told the Mail that it had "never carried out covert recording of customers in stores" with research "only ever carried out with the full co-operation from the public involved".
The Information Commissioner's Office director of investigations Steve Eckersley said: "The Daily Mail's investigation has highlighted concerns about the use of CCTV. We will be examining the material provided and making appropriate inquiries."
Boots said it had been "let down" by SBXL and would not be working with the firm again.
Tesco told the Mail it "does not covertly film customers in stores nor would we allow any other company to do so" and that it worked with SBXL once in 2011 and customers gave permission to be interviewed.
A Co-op spokesman said: "Protecting our customers' privacy is a priority and we have strict data protection policies, which include being clear with people about how their information is being used and making sure it's only seen by the right people.”
The Mail said the firm has also worked with L'Oreal, Coca-Cola, Danone and Kellogg's.
Words by Wesley Hudson