Everyone has heard the familiar horror story: An irate father barges into a Target in Minneapolis and complains that his teenage daughter has been receiving coupons for diapers and other common baby products. He fears that the large corporation has been attempting to encourage the teenager to become pregnant. So what’s the twist? Target accurately deduced that the girl was pregnant before her dad could.
The fallout from this has even included concern over privacy and safety violations by companies like Target. By compiling lists of purchases by customers, Target is capable of analyzing buying patterns and profiling an individual’s lifestyle. But does this really constitute an invasion of privacy? Is this kind of marketing strategy dangerous?
The system itself is not dangerous, since it’s simply a marketing tool. Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and hundreds of other online sites use your personal information to customize visual, auditory and textual advertisements. For example, if you list that you like soccer on your Facebook wall, there is a high probability that advertisements for soccer camp, shoes and gear will appear in the margins of your browser.
Right now, the technology behind this system is rather clunky and can even be annoying, often soliciting things that people may no longer have an interest in. But imagine encountering advertisements that make you aware of internship opportunities that you didn’t know about. Imagine not having to sit through another dumb Progressive commercial even though you don’t own a car or house. Imagine receiving information that actually means something other than a 30-second intermission from the new "Game of Thrones" episode.
What people should be concerned about, including the employees of these corporations and businesses, is the abuse of power that information opens the door to. As of now, patient medical information is protected heavily under federal law, yet highly revealing statistical information from consumers is not. As these marketing developments become increasingly personal, there needs to be an equivalent barrier of protection by the law for consumers.