The surveillance state is upon us. With the police tracking through license plates and so on and so on, there’s no doubt that privacy is slowly…becoming…a…piece…of the…past. As we recounted already, before WSJ and FT ran today’s stories, the data gathering consumerism of modern Amerikkka is upon us:
Let’s take, for instance, my recent experience at Radio Shack. When I purchased a pair of headphones for $20 so that I could listen to punk rock on my jogs, I had a number of questions to answer. Of course, I did not have to answer the questions, but the promise of a $5 gift certificate if I complied was just too much to resist.
And so, i proceeded to surrender my full name, address, phone number, mother’s maiden name, social security, what phone company I used (perhaps for efficient wiretapping), and my e-mail address. And then, I was asked if I would like to donate to a foundation.I declined the latter part knowing full-well that, while the foundation might purport to fight cancer worldwide, if it was anything like foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, etc., it probably was promoting cancer as a sick form of family planning. Luckily, I still got that $5 gift certificate.
Mastercard contends that it analyzes billions of transactions, including which customers purchase, for example, electronics or luxury goods. MasterCard is not the only credit card company in the data industry. Visa sells retailers the ability to send text messages to consumers based on previous card transactions. Those who receive the ads, just like I detailed in the story, agree to them in exchange for discounts and coupons. American Express is also doing the same.
MasterCard Advisors has been around for more than a decade, and is a professional services division aimed at analyzing the companies multifarious and innumerable points of data. Not until 2012 did Mastercard begin marketing specific data. While the company insists it does not provide information to identify an individual customer, it will provide detailed customer segments and their spending patterns:
Once the data is sorted, it appears with segments of the customership grouped into different “audiences.” That audiences are categorized by how likely they are to spend at particular stores and at what times. There are different ways that habits can be atomized and studied. For example, What stores does an individual shop? What products does an individual buy? At what times? Days of the week?
Mastercard can utilize the data from more credit cards and debit cards than Facebook has accounts.
MasterCard is just one company amid many looking to monetize their customer information. Big Data is the new industry on the block of Big Industry. But, few have as intimate of a reach into customer’s lives as do credit card companies.
One industry that is right there alongside credit card companies in access to customer information are mobile phone companies. They know where their customers and where they are going and every single call they have made.
Of course, efficiency and fusion are the for-bearers of consolidation, and now we can expect a all-encompassing data funnel center called Isis Mobile payments service. The service goes live in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City on Monday. So, Alex Jones and his posse best be on their toes. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have launched the system in partnership, and it will let users make purchases by tapping certain phones against certain terminals at store checkouts. They payment is then processed by linking up their Isis account with their payment card.
This bring us to the supermarket. Many supermarkets have been collecting data for awhile using cards that help them track individual shoppers. Such data is compiled for millions of customers across the US, and offers a clear picture of what families are eating and when.
Supermarket chain Kroger’s CEO, David Dillon, loves voyeurism:
“The Dunnhumby data not only tells us within a store what’s happening and what customer combinations are there, but [also] within households what’s going on in these households and what they like to buy over a long period of time,” Dillon said. “It’s one thing to look at a basket of goods and see what they buy together at one moment, but we can see what they buy over long periods [of] time. [With] the work we do and other data pieces in the market, we’re able to see not only what they buy at Kroger but also what they buy in other places too.”
“If you think about the digital world, we’re going to know where you browse, we’re going to know what you watch, we’re going to know where you are,” noted Michael Donnelly, Kroger SVP merchandising. “If we can do the things that we think we can do, using big data and coupling it with our insights, we think this is going to be a competitive advantage,” he said. “It’s really bringing big data in what we do to a personal level.”
The government is concerned about Big Business doing its historical job. Last week the US Senate Commerce Committee launched an investigation into nine consumer brokers. In March, the US Federal Trade Commission advocated for legislation to “address the invisibility of, and consumers’ lack of control over, data brokers’ collection and use of consumer information.”
“The digital footprint [consumers] will inevitably leave behind will become more specific and potentially damaging, if used improperly,” even John Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote in a letter to one large data broker. Presumably, he is defending the business of some friends.