The UPS driver doesn’t only know every purchase you have made in the last year, from a list immediately downloadable by any driver, he knows who was home to sign for it, AND whether or not your pet is a good dog. YES! There is a BAD DOG LIST.
Anyone who wanted could put together a complete dossier on you; your whereabouts, living circumstances and personal habits. We already know whether or not you have a pet. Where have you been? Lets check what tolls are recorded on your EZPASS, where you got gas, what plane tickets you bought. We don’t even need to check your FaceBook page. How much do you shop? We can find that info in lots of places: credit card bills, cookies on your internet. Yes, cookies can tell us a lot about you.
I was invited to a networking meeting of retailers entitled “How To Turn Data into Insights for Integrated Marketing.” Now, I was a retailer too, at one point in my career, but I remembered customer’s birthday’s the hard way- if I developed a certain rapport with them, I occasionally thought it was appropriate to wish them “happy birthday” if they happened to be in my store on or near that day. I did not call them and leave a voice message, like a recent car salesman I randomly bought a car from, saying: Happy Birthday, do want to buy anything else from me?
The point is that some data about you as a person, and as a customer has always been out there, BUT it was harder to gather and it seemed to be used more judiciously.
The most recent egregious example of a retailer using gathered data was the father who contacted Target® and berated them for sending his teenage daughter coupons for newborn baby diapers and baby products, saying she was only a young teenager and was not pregnant. Target’s apology was immediate and public. BUT unfortunately for the father, Target was right! His daughter was indeed pregnant and hadn’t told him yet. Isn’t it wonderful when a company tracking your buying habits helps facilitate inter-family communications like that?
Have we really given permission for all of this information about us to be collected and used at will? Not really. Lawyers specializing in Privacy Law regularly advise companies on appropriate uses for data collected for transactions and how to securely store it or delete it. But most people still automatically give the clerk in a store their name, phone number and email address, just because they are asked. Do you inquire as to why the store needs it? Or what the store will do with it? Stop & Shop called me once to tell me the orgainic spinach I purchased was being recalled. Unfortunately I had already eaten it. Does Stop & Shop really need to know if I am eating (or at least buying) the recommended amount of vegetables?
At least retailers only use the data to sell you their wares.
Surely if SOMEONE wanted to really get to know you, they could find out anything they wanted. In one of the many animated conversations with my family gathered over the July 4th Weekend, the consensus of the discussion seemed to be: sure we trust OUR government with all this info to some extent (our cell phone call records?) but what about everyone else who can access our records that are not accountable to us? What about other governments? We put a lot of information about ourselves out there on Social Media – but that part we expect to go viral. It is the algorithm that enables Google® to “read” our gmail and target pop up ads directly to us, based on our correspondence with friends, that gives us a glimpse into just how easy it is to learn our secrets. Even though, intellectually we know there can be no expectation of privacy in an email, we still carry on as if there is.
Do we really want our lives to be downloadable and reviewed? Not my dog – as aloof as he is, I KNOW he does not want to be on the UPS BAD DOG LIST. Not me. The fewer people who know about all the mistakes I make, the better off I feel.
© Jane F. Collen July 10, 2015