Data suppliers know more about you than your spouse does. This is mostly because the information gathered from online forms and offline purchases isn’t cast in a favorable light or crafted to achieve a specific aim. It’s just a dispassionate record that’s collected about an event. A single record, or ‘data point’, regarding an individual isn’t particularly valuable. But when you consider that a leading data supplier owns roughly 1,500 data points per the 500,000,000 people they track worldwide — that’s quite an intimate pattern of behavior being compiled.
And it’s also why I pay cash for hamburgers.
No, I don’t wear an aluminum hat to keep the government from intercepting my thoughts. And I’m not interested in conspiracy theories. But when ProPublica posts an article describing an insurer that buys offline purchase data to flag ‘health-related actions’ – such as buying plus sized clothes – that gives me pause. Could this insurer, the national parent company being the one I receive coverage from, be putting me into a ‘Burger Boy Bucket’ that results in higher medical costs?
The $14 bottle of generic Zyrtec I buy once per year from Costco is beginning to make me ponder my shopping habits too. On the positive side, one bottle contains 365 pills, so reducing my buying frequency could help avoid being added to the ‘Allergy Relief‘ list. But since every purchase is tied to my identity (PII) because of the membership card Costco scans before ringing up an order, maybe not.
Digital Ads Inform My Purchases, So Track Away
This post isn’t meant to describe tracking or ad serving technology in a negative light. I began noticing ads for a product called ‘DropCam’ as a result of information I shared related to my wife’s pregnancy on Facebook – and I wouldn’t want to live without it! Since I travel quite frequently for work, the DropCam lets me check-in on my twins via a mobile app (I can even press the ‘talk’ button to wish them a good nights sleep as they are dozing off).
Would I rather see ads related to hunting or sky-diving? Hell no! So please, keep logging data points with respect to my visits to CrossFit and Google search related to the rumor that Skylar Astin and Anna Camp are dating – even though she isn’t divorced from her husband yet (What can I say; my wife and I recently watched the movie Pitch Perfect, and when she told me two of the stars were dating I looked it up).
Oh yeah, I also bought a new car about four months ago, a Subaru Outback. The display ads that began following me were generally helpful in keeping me aware of current offers, and contributed to me pulling the trigger (Couldn’t believe the interest rate was barely above 1%).
But until I feel reassured that the healthcare industry won’t use a once-every-couple-of-months burger purchase from affecting my insurance and reimbursement rates, I’ll pay cash for the delightful foodstuff. And no, I’m not interested in your customer loyalty card.
*Full Disclosure: I work in the digital advertising industry and am therefore a danger to myself and others.
**Fuller Disclosure: That part about being a danger was totally a joke; I can’t even look at a spider without recoiling in horror.