Thursday, February 16, 2012


How much does Target know about your private life? As much, maybe, as your spouse does, or more

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.

by Larry Geller

The pull-quote above demonstrates how corporations use information mined from various sources to set you up to buy. Even your smartphone rats on you. If you can’t trust Siri, who can you trust?

The New York Times article opened with the question of how a Target researcher could deduce that a woman is in her second trimester of pregnancy.

“If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”

Why would Target want to know that?

… And among life events, none are more important than the arrival of a baby. At that moment, new parents’ [shopping] habits are more flexible than at almost any other time in their adult lives. If companies can identify pregnant shoppers, they can earn millions.

[NY Times, How Companies Learn Your Secrets, 2/16/2012]

Of course, the process would end up highly automated. Then some computer somewhere in Target would do a mailing. That’s how they earn millions.

The article is a good read, touching on the psychological and neurological aspects of habit. Partway down they introduce a tiny OR in which surgeons implant tiny electrodes in the brains of rats (will they learn that the rats would rather be eating bananas in Chinatown? Nevermind).

It’s possible to stay out of these databases, especially if you pay cash and don’t use a store discount card. And if you both turn off your smartphone and pull out the battery before heading off to the store. Most of us are not going to do that, so our shopping (and other) habits are enshrined in databases everywhere. Of course, that data can be sold, traded and subpoenaed.

Read the article.

Oh, and of course, someone knows you are doing that, and when, where, and on what computer. And maybe they know if your toenails are clipped and if you are wearing fresh underwear. And what you will do tonight should one of you get pregnant.

Or if it’s not your wife who gets pregnant, they may know that too.


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