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March 11, 2010

Tracking My Every Move

Recently, my local Long's Drug store was converted to a CVS store. Mergers and acquisitions are a way of life.

With the new CVS store came a new request..."Do you have your CVS card?"

As soon as CVS took over, they implemented one of those frequent shopper cards that it seems every store has these days.

You shop the store and when you swipe the card, you get discounts on some items.

Seems harmless, right? Swipe a card to get a discount.

Actually, I think these things are pretty insidious. This, despite the fact that I actually use the cards in many stores.

So in exchange for discounts on items, which, by the way, I believe are marked up so they can discount them...the store gets to track my shopping data and use that information however they choose.

Ostensibly, it is used to both market to me personally, and to help figure out what to stock and in what quantities.

But here's what bugs me: In order to get a card, I have to give them personal data. Name (first and last), address, phone number, and date of birth (so they can send me a birthday card??).

Just what, exactly, do the stores do with all of this data they've mined?

By the by, to purchase marketing data like this costs a lot of money. They are getting it for the price of marking up an item so they can take a discount off the top. Cheap deal!

Plus, I suspect they are also selling the data too. Tidy sideline business, I'd say.

I got to thinking about all of this today when I read an article about a recent salmonella outbreak. The CDC asked permission from the patients, and used their shopper cards to trace back to which food item caused their illness.

Ok, so that's a pretty good use of the data. Permission was granted, in advance, to use shopping information.

If only all the uses of my data were for such noble causes.

I personally have an issue with all of the data that is collected and tracked in our ever-evolving data driven society. Google tracks all the websites I've visited, has satellite and street level images of my home, and oh, and if I use their email service, they track information from that too.

Airlines and Homeland Security track everywhere I travel.

Security cameras everywhere track my movements.

A retail company I worked for installed cameras that track a shopper as they come into the store, note what items a shopper looks at, picks up, and ultimately buys (to evaluate effectiveness of the store layout, the manufacturer of the device says).

AT&T knows WAY more about me than pretty much anyone in my life. Phone calls, text messages, email, what sites I surf, etc is all available on their mobile network.

And honestly, every single time I use my credit card, someone tracks where I am, how much I've spent and what I spent it on.

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist. Usually I take things in stride, but even I have my limits.

Lately, I've been using cash more and trying to frequent stores that don't collect my data, like Trader Joe's and Walgreens.

I'm not yet to the point where I want to live "off the grid" on my compound in Montana, with razor wire around the perimeter and an avid suspicion of authority.

But some days, I gotta be honest, it doesn't sound too bad.....

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Creative Commons License
All content of Oh Fair New Mexico by Karen Fayeth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.