I thought this was a really intriguing article:

How Companies Learn Your Secrets
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html

On one hand, the analytics behind the data is kinda brilliant – the idea of building a customer profile to be able to predict specific life-changing events within a few months time is just amazing to me. It reminds me of a documentary I saw a while ago about how Walmart’s automated shipping system works because they actually take into account weather patterns to ship not only hurricane supplies like water and canned foods in preparation for upcoming storms, but also Pop-Tarts because, well, their sales data shows that people go through a lot of Pop-Tarts when there’s a hurricane bearing down on them off the coast!  🙂

On the other hand, though, I can’t necessarily overlook all of the ethical quandaries that stem from such digging – like the fact that they not only use membership cards, but also just straight up credit card purchases as a way to tie all of your sales data together (neat, in my eyes), and the idea that they also buy consumer data from other conglomerates to merge together with their own (not as neat).

And of course, the glaring issue stemmed from this particular article – what happens when a profile is built that you would’ve preferred to keep quiet due to personal reasons, or perhaps even tragedy??? The woman who starts getting coupons for her unborn baby is one story when Target predicts that she’s pregnant before she’s even told her own family, but what about in the case where somebody has a miscarriage and thus no longer wants to get those kinds of coupons? Maybe this isn’t really that big of a deal – I don’t know, because of all those Target coupon books that I’ve gotten to date, none have been filled with deals on frozen pizzas and LEGOs and video games and Pop-Tarts that would drive me to make an impromptu visit to their store!

I think part of the reason why I’m not so concerned with the overall ethical implication here, though, is that as a general rule, I honestly don’t really have a problem with targeted advertising simply because I’d much rather view ads relating to things that I personally care about than just random crap that doesn’t affect me in the slightest. I know a lot of people would throw out the notion that they don’t like having to view ads altogether, and maybe I don’t share that philosophy because I sell advertising on all of my websites and have come to accept that without them, a lot of content creators would never get paid for their work. So if I’m visiting a video game review site and they run ads pimping out a new RPG that I might actually want to play myself, that’s better in my eyes because instead running something like an ad for Raisins (*because I have a bag of raisins on my desk as I write this…) doesn’t really help either of us – I’m not going to click the ad because I have no desire to see raisin-related ads intermixed with video game reviews, and the publisher misses a click because an ad for the new Zelda game might’ve stood a better chance at gaining my attention because I actually care about that.

Now whether the general public is, well, in general ok with this sort of thing … that’s a little trickier to tell. My gut would be that honestly, I don’t think most people care simply because they wouldn’t even think about what’s being assumed about them behind the scenes unless you told them. And I don’t necessarily think that it’s deceptive for a store to do intelligence like this to help improve their own sales, either – it’s really just another step down the path of making the store inviting, doing market research to identify which products sell the best at which positions on shelves, how many different choices are the optimum to give a customer, and so forth. A lot of people want to criminalize the types of things that take place here, much like the efforts that go into keeping a gambler inside a casino spending money, but at the end of the day the consumer still had to step through the front doors in the first place.

Bottom line – I’m going to go grocery shopping anyways, so if Target wants to analyze my purchases and send me coupons for FREE LEGOS to get me in the door to buy other crap, then more power to ’em!  :mrgreen:

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