In June 2013, Edward Snowden began to release information about the activities of the now infamous NSA (National Security Agency); there was massive public backlash over the thought of government infringing upon our privacy. Yet, retail corporations have long been collecting, as well as analyzing huge amounts of our personal data – not for the sake of trying to protect us from threats to our security, but to protect their profit margins.
A key example of a retail corporation collecting and analyzing personal data would be Target.
Andrew Pole, one of Target’s statisticians, stated that:
“If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID.”
A Guest ID is a unique code assigned to each customer; and an immense amount of data comes to be associated with it. Here is a quick list of all the information Target keeps on file for you:
age, marital status, whether you have kids, address, how long it takes you to drive to the store, estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. (list taken from NY times)
The list is not finished – there is more data that Target can purchase:
“Ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own” (quoted directly from NY Times Article)
Retail corporations such as Target know you inside and out – and in some frightening cases, inside and out in a literal sense. Target hired statisticians to analyze consumers’ purchase patterns, specifically those of pregnant women. Using that data, they were able to realize correlations between upticks in purchases of certain products, i.e. unscented lotion, and likelihood of pregnancy. In fact, they have created a specific index to measure “pregnancy prediction” scores for women, which can even track what specific stage in her pregnancy a woman is in. It is quite possible that Target could know that you are pregnant before you tell your own parents. Furthermore, as opposed to blatantly advertising using that knowledge, they subtly place products that a mother would seek for her child in advertisement booklets, with randomly placed items here and there to make it seem as if the coupons for baby products were just randomly placed.
They don’t limit themselves to baby products; considering they try to sell almost everything, they are trying to sweep women in buying all they need from Target itself, whether it be toys for their child or milk or a car seat.
It’s not just pregnancy that they seek to take advantage of. They seek to know when you go through a life changing event, because it is at that time that your spending habits are most malleable. Take for example moving in with someone – you are likely to start buying a different brand of cereal; or getting married – your taste in coffee could change, or on a sad note, getting divorced – you could start looking into different brands of beer . They eagerly hunt for opportunities like these to try and change a consumer’s habits to their benefit.
The public was more than willing to draw a line that they believed the government could not cross in its duty to protect them. I believe that the greater information should be spread about the activities of corporations and their ventures into our privacy, and that the public should be allowed to draw their own line in this case as well.
Duhigg, Charles. “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Feb. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
Hill, Kashmir. “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/>.