“About a year after TARGET created their pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.” –Courtesy of New York Times

With computers, our habits can give away our deepest secrets… On one hand this is abominable. Strangers knowing of a teen age pregnancy before anyone else…. On the other hand, it’s nothing new. I remember stories of the old lady in our town who was always right…. “yep, she’s pregnant…”

It comes from knowledge… If someone knows enough about human nature, it is easy to make predictions that come true more often than not.

Sports betters know this. Vast resources at their disposal… With enough knowledge about human nature, it is easy to make predictions that come true more often than not.

What is known about you?

“If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail they’ve sent you or visit their Web site, they’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “They want to know everything they can.”

Linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. They can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own.

Is this advantageous to us?

It can be. Using the pregnancy example, if we get a coupon for calcium, magnesium, and zinc, coupled with a free bottle of unscented lotion, we might purchase those, helping ourselves and our fetus, long before those items would have crossed our paths otherwise…

But it can be a two edge sword. Walgreens could put those offers in our mailbox, and we would capitalize upon them, never realizing Walmart always sold them for less at regular price, just 14 miles up the road….

So, one, we are being manipulated. Two, we always are being manipulated. The only difference is that we are being placed in a controlled environment like rats in a maze, instead of having occurrences that are random be what manipulate us.

This opens the door to two questions. One, is it ethical? And two, what defense do we take when it goes so horribly wrong?


Ethics is a relative term. Things ethical in the frames of past history, are not ethical today. We can turn up our nose and say, that was so not ethical, because we live in an environment where that action is not relevant.

Slavery today is completely unacceptable…. There is no rational that allows for it… That wasn’t always the case. In the frame of their own time, slavery was acceptable. It was always done.. It was condoned by ALL major religions. You could capture someone and make them your slave; that was your right given to you by your God.

Bottom line; ethics IS dependent on majority rule. Is it ethical to drive a gasoline engined car? Of course… today. The time will come when us doing so, will be seen as barbaric, crude, and disgusting…. None of us have those qualms now…. It was the same with slavery.

Ethics, if deemed to be decided by majority rule, seems to smile on marketers …. How many of us have not looked forward to a new release from a major artist, that we just “randomly” got an alert for? ….

The new Batman movie. Does anyone on the top of their head know it’s release date? As it gets close… you will…. and that is a service that we are grateful for….

Now, the second aspect is far scarier… Let me throw this out…. Imagine how easy rounding up the Jews would be if done today?

“There a girl, under puberty, associated with the owners of this address… who has the track record of purchasing items matching a Jewish profile. Check it out.”

We’re toast.

We have a horrible weapon. A tool… Just like a gun… If it is in the hands of a nice person, there is nothing to fear… If in the hands of a not-so-nice person… we’re toast. We have no defense against that……

Like guns, the constraining method must not be to attack the weapon, but go after those individuals who will misuse and abuse that very privilege a weapon affords them….

If data gets misused, there must be astronomical penalties to punish those who did… Those penalties tend to keep honest people honest…

If I shoot someone, destroy their life, my life as an independent person is over. Likewise, if confidential information is misused against someone, and metaphorically “destroys their life”,…. the life of that entity as an independent functionary….. also needs to be over….


If a company tries to bad-mouth a former employee, and it is false, that employee should be able to accumulate a damage claim that will take all profit out of that company for years.

Bottom line, the company will instill internal controls to prevent such an occurrence.

If a politician is proven to use confidential information to achieve a result that otherwise would not have occurred, his opponent should take over that office.

Bottom line, the entire political organization will be working full tilt to prevent such an occurrence….

With penalties so steep, it naturally occurs to someone who is considering using confidential information in a nefarious way….. to pass.. and not do it…

Life will go on. Perhaps with some abuses (people are still getting shot) but no major loss to the entire structure of society…..

So how did the story end up with that company that sent a pregnancy flier to the pregnant teen age high schooler?

They discovered that if they disguised it in a certain way…

They realized soon after perfecting this model, that they had on their hands, a public-relations disaster. So the question became: how could they get their advertisements into expectant mothers’ hands without making it appear they were spying on them? How do you take advantage of someone’s habits without letting them know you’re studying their lives?

“Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

“And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

In this case it was the cost of a public relations disaster. Price tag: millions.

Having the threat of legal action along the same price level, should do the trick, and keep honest people honest….

Currently the arsenal is not complete. The Internet has opened a vacuum. Corporate entities are rushing to fill it first; hence the SOPA AND PIPA being stealthed through Congress and ACTA snaking its way through corporate controlled governmental committees….

People need protection too. Start asking your legislators where they stand…. Tell them you want strong laws with strong penalties applied to the misuse of your own personal life history…..