Businesses Snooping in our Lives

An angry man waltzed into a Target store outside Minneapolis and waved a flyer in front of the manager:

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t  have any idea what the man was talking about. He  looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s  daughter and contained  advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery  furniture and pictures  of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was  somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

The above is an excerpt of this full article that gives an example of how Target analyzes our shopping habits and can draw conclusions about our lives that are eerily accurate. In the above case, Target knew a high school girl was pregnant before her own father did.

In my early years as a computer programmer I spent much time analyzing how to predict things like prices of precious metals, the outcomes of horse races or other sports events, based on historical data and current events. I used neural network technologies to do that, but I got only lukewarm results since my Intel 486-33 processor, the most advanced you could buy in 1989, was simply not up to the job.

Today, with computers a thousand times more powerful than my trusty 486, predictive systems are becoming more and more feasible and commonplace.

And it’s not just Facebook that collects information about us, it’s Target too, and probably Starbucks, and Vons, and … you get the idea.

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