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Home > Blog > Data Mining: What's Too Personal?
Out of Our Minds
Monday, August 01, 2005 3:23 PM
Data Mining: What's Too Personal?
Anita Sharpe on Business

'Zipcode, please,' the cashier at a large home-goods store asked. 'No,' replied the woman in line before me. 'You companies ask for too much information and you don't need it.' I noticed she also paid in cash; obviously a check or credit card would easily provide the withheld information.

This retailer, along with many others, used to ask for phone numbers but stopped once it realized that virtually no one gave out a real phone number (who would?).

I'm curious about how far the privacy zealots are willing to take it. Anyone who uses a Kroger Plus card for the discounts, for instance, is giving more information to that grocery chain than they likely divulge to their closest friend (how about that Twinkie addiction). I'm sure it's possible to pay cash for just about everything, but are the convenience trade offs really worth it in an age when nearly everything you want to know about someone is just a few mouse clicks away?


7 comments

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Stephanie - 8/3/2005 9:33:41 AM
I have a couple of grocery store cards and I have always opted to check the box that allows you to decline giving personal info.

It's nobody's business what I buy, nor how often I buy it.
Jess McMullin - 8/3/2005 1:07:04 AM
On a trip to the US a couple years ago I was extremely impressed with the Albertson's loyalty card - there was a checkbox to decline giving any personal information and just get a card...no strings attached. Fantastic, and an excellent example for others...hopefully they have kept that option.
Joan - 8/1/2005 11:34:49 PM
Some companies, notably Harry & David (the fruit mailer) and Hanna Andersson (a kid's clothier) are extremely good at paying me back for the information they keep on my purchases. They help me when I order by remembering addresses, past orders, even sizes. They save me time and help me make better buying decisions. They are welcome to my 'private' information.
Keith J. - 8/1/2005 11:28:18 PM
For so many years now, the privacy watchdogs have been warning us about the access companies have to our information. And I've been wondering if I should be more concerned. Naturally, in the case of a major breach of security, such as the one that happened with Choicepoint or SS #s or credit card numbers, I'm worried. But I've never understood the hullabaloo over what toothpaste I buy or what books I order from Amazon. In general, I think it helps those companies market to me (often through coupons or special offers) frequently things that I naturally might gravitate toward.

In other words, when this all gets interestingly serious, could someone please wake me?
Jim Ware - 8/1/2005 7:56:27 PM
I use a Safeway card without much concern, mostly because what I get back is discounts. So they are paying me something for the information they get from me.

But I agree that something like a monthly summary of purchases would be a nice added value.

I also agree that I'd appreciate more transparency than we now see in most of these situations. But so far at least I don't have any deep cause for concern.
Garrick Van Buren - 8/1/2005 7:41:33 PM
Personally, I'd be more apt to offer this information if the retailer was transparent with how they were using it, or at least offered me something of equal value in return.

The supermarket cards are an excellent example. The grocer could offer each customer an online, end-of-month list of all their purchases, organized, sortable. That'd be useful.

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