Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did - Forbes

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did - Forbes
"Every time you go shopping, you share intimate details about your consumption patterns with retailers. And many of those retailers are studying those details to figure out what you like, what you need, and which coupons are most likely to make you happy. Target, for example, has figured out how to data-mine its way into your womb, to figure out whether you have a baby on the way long before you need to start buying diapers. ..."
This is not new.  I have been aware of this potential for about 20 years -- when debit cards were starting to take off and scanning technology was being adopted by many of the "big box" stores.

There had been talk in various computer security groups regarding the scanning technology and the ability to tie items purchased to a particular debit card or credit card.  The piece that was lacking 20 years ago was the ability to mine the large amounts of data that potentially could be collected.  Apparently that is no longer an issue.

An analysis of a family's buying habits can now tell you the reproductive status of  members of the family, their overall health, what they like to eat, where they like to go for entertainment, and many more aspects of their lives.  One could even make an educated guess as to political stands by noting, for example, a change in buying habits that correlates to a particular party's call for a boycott or donations to various causes.

I never have been all that paranoid when it comes to privacy online.  My life tends to be a open book, and pretty boring at that.  But this effort by Target crosses a line.  Yes, I know that Google gmail can put up targeted ads based on keywords in email, and Facebook can use your profile to do pretty much the same thing.  But only I see those ads.  And I refuse as a matter of principle to click through on any of that advertizing.  In this case, a young girl's sexual behavior became known through data mining to Target, which then sent "appropriate" coupons to the the girl's address. And all this significantly before the girl's pregnancy would be been obvious.

Whatever one thinks about sexual activity among young teenagers, this situation just does not pass the "smell test".  Target needs to rethink their methods.

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