Chapter 12Using Data Responsibly

It's clear that corporations have a lot of data on their customers and prospects. In fact, there is no shortage of incidents where the question arises of whether corporations have crossed the line into knowing far too much about consumers:

  • In one high-profile incident, a couple in suburban Chicago received a direct mailer from OfficeMax, which had an unusual element in the address stamped on it: “Daughter Killed in Car Crash” read one of the lines of the address.

    All of the information on the envelope was correct: the recipient's name, the street address, and the fact that the couple's 17-year-old daughter had been killed about a year earlier in a car accident. The couple was taken aback, shocked that a corporation seemed to know the family's sad history, let alone that it was maintained in a database, and more, inexplicably printed on a piece of junk mail.

  • A story in the New York Times Magazine, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets” (February 16, 2012), showed how big box retailer Target was mining data to anticipate its customers' needs. Based on certain customer purchases, such as unscented lotion and calcium supplements, Target identified some customers as likely to be pregnant, according to the story. If a customer purchased particular items, Target would send her offers tailored to pregnant women.

    In one case described in the Times's story, a puzzled father visited Target and asked the company to stop sending these offers to his daughter, ...

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