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Big Brother Data: Target Knows You're Pregnant

Apparently, Target has cracked the code and likely knows your pregnant before you even tell your boss. No, really. They take this information and send you targeted (pun fully intended) advertisements to try to change your shopping habits and buy more stuff from their retail stores.

It’s the newest in math and science. Science, because of the research that went into the way habits are formed (so that Target to determine when best to try to become one of your habits) and math because a statistician is the gentleman who took all the information and turned it into an actual list of potential customers.

Like so many of you, I read this recent article in the New York Times with a mixture of fascination and fury. Fascination because it’s all rather brilliant, really, and fury because, well, hell, I didn’t want them to use my data THAT way.

But I let them use my data.

We all do.

Target determined that expecting parents were the best folks to potentially woo to become better customers. But it was important to time things correctly:

There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments — the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs. But as Target’s marketers explained to Pole, timing is everything. Because birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies. Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way.

This is the natural outcome of everything being computerized, isn’t it? The truth is, each time we click “Yes” when accepting a terms of service contract, we’re giving away bits of our information, willingly. When we sign that credit card application, when we open that new bank account, when we swipe our credit card at the store each time we do that, we’re giving away our data, willingly.

This is not really a surprise, is it? Seth Godin said it well in his blog recently:

As computers get ever better at triangulating our interests and our actions, prepare to be surprised more often. It’s not clear to me whether the never-ending series of little snooping surprises will eventually wear us out and we’ll give up caring, or whether one day we’ll sit up and demand that the surprises stop.

But privacy? Too late to worry about that.

What do you think? Are you freaked out by this latest attempt to pinpoint advertising? Or do think this is just par for the course?

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