I’m not a math whiz. However, I can certainly appreciate the practical applications that can arise from serious number crunching. As a marketing professional, I recognize the benefits that come from knowing what makes our customers and their customers tick. I am also a consumer though. So, I often wonder what it would be like to live in a world where all my movement and all my purchases are tracked.
Well, the combination of statistics, technology and a vast amount of readily available information makes it possible to predict almost anything, including complex human behaviors. The process is called data mining. Using this tool, marketers can uncover hidden relationships from seemingly unrelated data. Take wine prices. Historical wine prices from one database have been connected with other databases containing records about the amount of winter rainfall, average growing temperature and harvest rainfall. Data mining uncovered the hidden relationship between wine prices and various weather statistics and created a wine quality formula. Theoretically, even though I am not a wine-tasting expert, I can use this formula to invest in the best red wine that will be worth a lot in the future.
Many of our activities leave an electronic footprint that can be placed in a database. With data mining, marketers can use these footprints to create their own formulas in order to communicate with those who are most likely to respond. Such power can also be easily abused though.
To protect yourself, the first step is to realize that such technology exists. Next, use common sense. Work with companies that you trust and give out your personal information sparingly. Just because they ask, it doesn’t mean you have to answer. Finally, review these companies’ privacy and information-sharing policies. If you chose to opt-in, make sure that their data mining is for internal purposes only.