While researching privacy for a class discussion, I came across something I found very disturbing. The exact words that caught my eye were, “The recent incident of Target using customer analytics to determine that a teen was pregnant before her father knew.” [Click here to read this full article]
My first thought was, “ok, this is a joke or an example of something that COULD happen.”
Nope. It really happened.
Apparently, Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number, tied to their credit card, name, or email address that becomes a bucket that stores a history of everything they’ve bought and any demographic information Target has collected from them or bought from other sources. Using that, the company looks at historical buying data for all the ladies who had signed up for Target baby registries in the past.
Fine, right? I knew that many companies tracked consumer purchases, activities and interests, but tracking pregnancy?
According to a Forbes article, Target started sending coupons for baby items to customers according to their pregnancy scores. The particular article I found this on shared a particular incident (the one I referred to above) — so good that it sounds made up — that conveys how eerily accurate the targeting is.
One day, an angry man went into a Target outside of Minneapolis, demanding to talk to a 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.”
Creepy, right? I literally read and re-read this about five times and then just said, “Whoa!”
Shortly after this incident, (and likely, others very similar to this) Target got sneakier about sending the coupons. The company can create personalized booklets; instead of sending people with high pregnancy scores books o’ coupons solely for diapers, rattles, strollers, and the “Go the F*** to Sleep” book (hahaha), they more subtly spread them about:
“Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.
“And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”
I mean, come on, even the most skilled Facebook stalker could not be this diligent and clever about the information collected from their subject.
Target is not the only company using these tactics but it is the only one with this strange of a story (my opinion, feel free to Google your own!).
How does reading this make you feel? What if YOU were the one getting the news about a major life changing event from a store?