So it looks like the paranoid came to my last post about loyalty cards complaining about the invasion of privacy that these cards come with. Maybe they expected that the myth of the Free Software developer who’s against all big corporation, who wants to be off the grid, and all that kind of stuff that comes out when you think of Stallman. Well, too bad as I’m not like that, while still considering myself a left-winger, but a realist one that cannot see how you can get workers happy by strangling the companies (the alternative to which is not, contrarily to what most people seem to think, just accepting whatever the heck they want).
But first an important disclaimer. What I’m writing here is my personal opinion and in no way that of my employer. Even if my current employer could be considered involved in what I’m going to write, this is an opinion I maintained for years — lu_zero can confirm it.
So, we’ve been told about the evil big brother of loyalty card since I can remember, when I was still a little boy. They can track what you buy, they can profile you, thus they will do bad things to you. But honestly I don’t see that like it has happened at all. Yes, they can track what you buy, they might even profile you, but about the evil things they do to you, I still have not heard of anything — and before you start with the Government (capital and evil G), if you don’t trust your government, a loyalty card programme is the last thing you should be worried in.
Let’s have a look first at the situation presented by the Irish Times article which I referred to in my first post on the topic. At least, they have been close to reality enough, so instead of going the paranoia of the Big Brother, they simply noted that marketeers will know about your life, although they do portray it as only negative.
Before long, he had come up with a list of 25 products which, if bought in certain amounts and in a certain sequence, allowed him to tell if a shopper was pregnant and when her due date was.
In his book, Duhigg tells the story of a man who goes into a branch of Target near Minneapolis. He is not happy as he wants to know why the retailer has suddenly started to send his high school-going daughter coupons for baby clothes and cribs. He asks the manager if the shop is trying to encourage very young girls, such as his daughter, to get pregnant.
The manager is bemused but promises to look into it, which he does. He finds that this girl had indeed been targeted with all manner of promos for baby products so he calls the father several days later to convey his apologies and his confusion.
That’s when the man tells him that when he raised the issue with his daughter, she told him she was pregnant. The retailer took a lot of flak when the details of its data mining emerged but the controversy blew over.
So first I would say I find it utterly ludicrous that sending coupons for “baby clothes and cribs” would “encourage very young girls […] to get pregnant”. I would also suggest that if the girl is so young that it’s scandalous that she could get pregnant, then it might indeed be too soon for her to have a loyalty card. In Italy for instance you have to be 18 before you can get a loyalty card for any program — why? Because you expect that a minor still does not have an absolutely clear idea of what his or her choices are going to mold their future as.
Then let’s see what the problem is about privacy here… if the coupons are sent by mail, one would expect that they are seen only by the addressee — if you have no expectation of privacy on personal mail, it’s hard to blame it strongly on the loyalty programmes. In this case, if you would count the profiling as a violation of privacy of the girl, then you would expect that her father looking at the coupons would be a bigger invasion still. That would be like reading a diary. If you argue that the father has a right to know as she’s a minor, I would answer that then she shouldn’t have the card to begin with.
Then there is the (anonymous, goes without saying) comment on my post, where they try to paint loyalty schemes in an even grimmer light, first by stating that data is sold to third party companies at every turn… well, turns out that’s illegal in most of Europe if you don’t provide a way for the customer not to have his data sold. And turns out that’s one of the few things I do take care of, but simply because I don’t want junk mail from a bunch of companies I don’t really care about. So using the “they’ll sell your detail” scare, to me, sounds like the usual bull.
Then it goes on to say that “Regularly purchasing alcohol and buying in the wrong neighbourhoods will certainly decrease your score to get loans.” — well, so what? The scores are statistical analysis of the chance of recovering or defaulting on a loan, I don’t blame banks for trying to make them more accurate. And maybe it’s because I don’t drink but I don’t see a problem with profiling as an alcoholic a person that would be buying four kegs of beer a day — either that or they have a bar.
Another brought point? A scare on datamining. Okay the term sounds bad, but data mining at the end is just a way for businesses to get better at what they do. If you want to blame them for doing so, it’s your call, but I think you’re out of your mind. There are obvious bad cases for data mining, but that is not the default case. As Jo pointed out on Twitter, we “sell” our shopping habits to the store chains, and what we get back are discounts, coupons and the like. It’s a tit-for-tat scenario, which to me is perfectly fine And applies to more than just loyalty card schemes.
Among others, this is why I have been blocking a number of webrobots on my ModSecurity Ruleset — those that try to get data without giving anything back, for me, are just bad companies. If you want to get something, give something
And finally, the comment twice uses the phrase, taken from the conspirationists’ rulebook, “This is only the beginning”. Sorry guys, you’ve been saying that this is the beginning for the past thirty years. I start to think you’re not smarter than me, just much more paranoid, too much.
To sum it up, I’m honestly of the opinion that all the people in countries that are in all effect free and democratic that complain about “invasion of privacy”, are only complaining because they want to keep hiding their bad sides, be it bad habits, false statements, or previous errors. Myself, as you can see from this blog, i tend to be fairly open. There is very little I would be embarrassed by, probably only the fact that I do have a profile on a dating site, but even in that, well, I’ve been as honest as a person can be. Did I do something stupid in my past? I think quite a few things. On the other hand, I don’t really care.
So, there you go, this is my personal opinion about all the paranoids who think that they have to live off the grid to be free. Unless you’re in a country that is far from democratic, I’d just say you’re a bunch of crybabies. As I said, places where your Government can’t be trusted, have much bigger problems than loyalty schemes or profiling.