Sunday, September 23, 2012

How much do corporations know about you? How much do you want them to?

Hi all,

Here's a link to the article we touched on in class the other day, re marketing research & consumer privacy concerns.  It's long, but really fascinating stuff, and easy to read.  Even as a marketing researcher, there was info here that I didn't know -- the world moves pretty fast...

This is one blogger's response to the article, which seems to mirror how the majority of you said you felt about this issue the other day. (Granted, most of you hadn't read it, so you might change your mind given more data & more time to think about the issue).

Mr. Salmon writes, "I’ve never received a good answer to the 'why should I care?' question." Clearly, Salmon doesn't read the NY Times very often, for if he did, he would have seen this article by author and law professor Lori Andrews, which appeared around the same time as the longer piece that focuses on Target's data-mining & strategic practices.

Andrews's piece provides a very good answer to Salmon's very good question. To me, the most chilling part of her article reads:
Stereotyping is alive and well in data aggregation. Your application for credit could be declined not on the basis of your own finances or credit history, but on the basis of aggregate data — what other people whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours have done. If guitar players or divorcing couples are more likely to renege on their credit-card bills, then the fact that you’ve looked at guitar ads or sent an e-mail to a divorce lawyer might cause a data aggregator to classify you as less credit-worthy. When an Atlanta man returned from his honeymoon, he found that his credit limit had been lowered to $3,800 from $10,800. The switch was not based on anything he had done but on aggregate data. A letter from the company told him, “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”
Even though laws allow people to challenge false information in credit reports, there are no laws that require data aggregators to reveal what they know about you.

There's a thought-provoking analysis (including a nice historical perspective on the scope of consumer privacy) of Andrews's article here.

And finally, if you want to keep score, The Onion* began writing about these practices years ago, in an excellent piece entitled " Recommendations Understand Area Woman Better Than Husband."
Meyers, who has spent the past 15 years with a man who still believes she enjoys attending car shows, said she has kept her Amazon recommendation e-mails a secret from her husband so as not to corrupt the "deep and unstated understanding" between her and the popular website.

 *If you're not already familiar with The Onion, click here...

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