February 20, 2012
The Web Owns You, Continued
As regular readers know, I write about privacy issues related to the Internet and social media. I highlighted some practices that sites use to shape the customized content an individual might see in this recent post. My feelings on this are that some tracking is inevitable, as this is how advertisers and sites on the web make money. The way I approach the problem is not to give out much information via social media and to be aware of the practices of advertisers and other in collecting information. I can at least take some defensive action to minimize the tracking of my habits.
So it is with some interest when I see articles such as this one in the New York Times detailing how and what information Target collects about customers at its brick and mortar stores. Target’s concern is to identify women who are in their second trimester of pregnancy. People have different shopping habits and pick up products at a variety of stores. Target wants to be a one-stop shop for individuals, from groceries to entertainment. People have limited time when babies come into the picture, thus they are more susceptible to changing their shopping habits. Target would like to be the one to benefit from any changes.
If anyone thinks that shopping in a store is safer than wandering the web, then this extract from the article should give some pause:
The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “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,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”
Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your 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. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.)
Target is identified as one of the smarter marketers when it comes to “predictive analytics.” It’s a field that is coming into vogue with universities offering programs into determining how we form our habits. The process goes much deeper than data mining our browsing and web buying habits. Political campaigns these days apparently have scientific advisers on constituency voting patterns using very detailed personal information.
The next time a store cashier asks for your zip code or phone number, keep in mind that declining to offer that information doesn’t necessarily protect against privacy incursions. I usually tell the clerk to ask Andrew Jackson as it is his picture on the bill I’m using to pay for the goods. I have a feeling President Jackson would get a bit worried after reading the article. I’m now waiting for the day when security cameras at stores double as data collection points, what with face recognition software and all. Wouldn’t that help a marketer in their quest for the ultimate dossier? I think I’ve become officially less worried about the government as I learn more about marketer techniques.
There are recent stories in the press about privacy groups slamming Google for changing its privacy policies to combine data from all of its sites and services, and more recently for what the company calls an “inadvertent” compilation of user data leaked from Safari. I’m not defending Google against any outrage these actions might generate. I would ask, though, compared to what? [MG]
I like your answer refered to the President Jackson.
If Gmail and other similar things don't change their new and ugly policy-take out other people 's private data without people's consensus, let's do something to educate them, shall we?
Posted by: sumet s | Feb 23, 2012 1:19:01 AM