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We are all data sources

September 6, 2013 - Art Smith
We are all data sources

There has been a lot of coverage lately about the data collection conducted by the government on both U.S. citizens and the people worldwide these citizens may have come in contact with.

Before you whip yourself into frenzy, consider this. The local retailer down the street likely knows more about you than can be gleamed by reviewing your cell phone records.

The collection of data is big business. Companies, all companies, work very hard to determine who their customers are. They better they understand the customer, the better they can market to them.

We help them collect the data every time we shop. The companies normally pay us for it in the form of some type of perk.

Companies likely know this about my own buying habits:

- I’m a huge user of loyalty cards. In fact I had so many hanging from my key ring that I found an iphone app to manage them for me. I don’t really care that Lowe’s knows what color the rocking chairs are on my porch– it might come in handy someday if I need to buy more paint.

- I also don’t care that Sam’s Club knows that I drink a lot of Tropicana Orange Juice with lots of pulp.

- Kroger’s knows that I buy Fuji apples and Giant Eagle knows that I take a prescription to keep my Cholesterol down.

If I cared, I wouldn’t use the loyalty programs. I’m getting something in return. Lower prices, money off gas, a discount off the total – I know they are using the info, but it’s worth the trade off to me to save money.

Credit card companies know a lot about you too. We put nearly all our purchases on a rewards based credit card. Periodically we get to fly someplace for free because we bought things like gas and food with a VISA card. Have you ever gotten the creepy call that you have purchased something that didn’t fit your normal habits? The company is using the data in an attempt to protect you. I don’t really care what else they do with the knowledge of where I fill up or that I frequently eat at Jukebox Pizza.

Sometimes they might use it to try to sell me something that I didn’t even know I needed, I know how to say no.

A lot of information about you is public information. Your address, the size and value of your home, even your salary — if you happen to be a public employee — it’s likely available online too. A lot of it can be found by doing a web search; some might require a trip to a courthouse, or the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request. It’s out there though, and anyone can look at it.

Car registrations are public record too, that’s why when I got a call from the “Vehicle Processing Department” last week about my Honda I asked three times what company the person worked for before she simply hung up on me.

Companies use this massive amount of data to market things to you that they think you may want to buy. These educated guesses may come in the form of coupons or special offers mailed or emailed to your home. Online companies will use both your browsing and buying history to show you what it thinks you want to buy.

Data collection is a huge business – one company, called Acxiom, opened up a new site this week to give consumer a lot at what the company knew about them. I tested the site and it seemed that the company knew very little about me – which makes me think that maybe they are not telling me everything they know.

Everyone seems so concerned over what the NSA knows about him or her. If the government really cared, I think they would learn more just by hanging out at the checkout line of the corner market. Who knows, maybe they do that too.


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