28th February 2012
According The New York Times, Target, the chain of retail stores is discerning the signs that tell a woman is pregnant so they can get a head start in selling her maternity products. That's just the tip of the iceberg.
Through its own data collecting, Target knows its customers ages, marital status, children, and neighborhood, credit cards, estimated salary and what Web sites they have visited. Moreover, as noted in this week's Sunday Magazine, any company can also "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." And with the help of savvy analysts, they can use that data to figure out if you're pregnant. (See "How Companies Learn Your Secrets.")
If you add up all the unstructured data coming through the "Internet of Things," the sensors imbedded throughout our world, not to mention tweets, Facebook postings, Google searches, etc. etc. there is an extraordinary mass of data to be sifted though and analyzed.
"It's a revolution," says the director of Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science, adding, "the march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business, and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched."
That sounds exciting. It's also frightening.
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