Privacy and Tracking with Digital Coupons

Data collection and mining can be quite lucrative pursuits for many retailers, and technological advances are providing them with more novel and extensive methods of doing just that.

Data mining is a topic I’ve been fascinated with ever since I was introduced to it in university, and this look at how digital coupons track us and provide retailers with detailed data is a worthy addition to my virtual collection:

Invented over a century ago as anonymous pieces of paper that could be traded for discounts, coupons have evolved into tracking devices for companies that want to learn more about the habits of their customers. […]

Many of today’s digital versions use special bar codes that are packed with information about the life of the coupon: the dates and times it was obtained, viewed and, ultimately, redeemed; the store where it was used; perhaps even the search terms typed to find it.

A growing number of retailers are marrying this data with information discovered online and off, such as guesses about your age, sex and income, your buying history, what Web sites you’ve visited, and your current location or geographic routine — creating profiles of customers that are more detailed than ever, according to marketing companies. […]

Many companies have the technology — and customers’ permission, thanks to the privacy policies that users accept routinely without reading — to track minute details of people’s movements.

I’m mostly fine with this sort of tracking as it is typically done on a large, impersonal level: complex algorithms are used to determine when to send what vouchers to who, all without direct human intervention. The piece ends with a thought that is somewhat close to my opinion on this particular privacy debate: “I would be concerned […] if they get very granular and are tracking me specifically.”

via @Foomandoonian