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Volume 4, Number 7
July, 1999

Tales of the Geek Lord
Get A Job

by Pelican Smith

Advertisers have a hard job. Last year over 20,000 new products landed on store shelves. That means a fragmented marketplace with lots of competition. That means that peoples buying patterns are becoming more individualized, and our likelihood of being interested in any one product becomes less and less over time. Since advertising costs money, and since less and less people are going to be interested in any one product, how can you get your ads to only the people who are most likely to buy?

Well, that means research. Find out who buys what. Find out who has the money and inclination to buy your products.

And, yes, this information is available.

Do you have any of those little grocery store "smart shopper" cards? The kind that saves you a couple bucks every time you buy at a store and then present them with the card? I'll bet you thought those were all about getting you to come back to their store more often, huh? What you are doing every time you present your card after purchasing groceries is nothing less than adding your shopping preferences to a database on YOU about what you eat, when you buy, and how much you spend.

How often do you use a credit card? Do you think that your purchases are private? Think again. Imagine, from a business perspective, how important this data is. From credit card transactions a company can determine your income, what luxury items you purchase, how often you purchase them, where you shop, what shops you live near, how often you withdraw information from an ATM, your name, age, address, employer, spouse, and on, and on, and on. Do you write checks? The bank conducts those transactions. How often, how much, how regular.

It's called Data Warehousing, in case you didn't know. Data warehousing started out in the business realm as a way for decision makers to get information about what was going on in their plant. If they had a machine stamping widgets, they could have that machine input the color, size, and shape of each widget into a database. The shipment team could input the destination of each widget. The CEO could then review and model this data to make decisions on how to get more green widgets to the Pacific Northwest.

But it wasn't long until data warehousing got personal. Let's say you're working in the marketing section of Pepsi. Wouldn't you like to know the name and address of every Coke drinker in America? How about which restaurants serve Coke and how much they make in business?

But who keeps this information? Who is in the position to find out everything about our lives? Well, the big three information harvesters are, not surprisingly, credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. They get their feeds from everywhere - Federal Express, TWA, IBM, UPS, Pacific Bell, American Express, Food Lion, Exxon, Dun and Bradstreet, Proctor and Gamble, Gerber. Everyone. Everywhere. Come children, get paranoid with me for a while.

For the expectant mothers out there - You can expect to receive a large amount of junk mail immediately after birth. Why, because the baby foods industry has shown the most success with direct marketing, and you are a very select group. I got yer number.

Ever order anything through the Internet, or from the Home Shopping Network? Buy a new car recently? I got yer number.

Subscribe to any magazines? Got a card from your favorite book seller? I got yer number.

Been to the hospital recently? Problems with the spouse, I heard. Were the police involved? I got yer number.

So does your employer, and your health insurance company, and the company who owns the apartment you rent from. But there is no need to be paranoid. Their intentions are always in your best interest.

5 Links To Make You Think
  1. Privacy, Inc.
  2. MetroMail News Online advertiser signs agreement with Microsoft
  3. Discrete Research Search through this site, look at their products. Spooky.
  4. The Privacy Page
  5. Privacy Analysis of Your Internet Connection Warning! JavaScript
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