Companies leveraging big data and machine learning can make very educated guesses about what’s going on in your life.
Amazon accurately predicted when we had a baby based on our purchase history and confidently emailed us about what we should buy next pic.twitter.com/UGUw8to2kU
— Austen Allred (@AustenAllred) February 27, 2018
I have little doubt many companies know the dates of our major life events. We broadcast breadcrumbs of them throughout social media, in what we buy, and (via GPS tracking) where we’re going. Even if we are frugal about sharing our data our friends and family may be less so. With our friends and family network data available via Facebook and LinkedIn and purchasing data available via Amazon, companies can triangulate our habits, our personalities. Sexual preferences, political leaning, family wealth and well-being are within their grasp.
The canonical example of this was Big box store Targets uncanny ability to determine if a woman was pregnant and then market to her accordingly. The folklore goes that a father of a 16-year-old girl, receiving an advert for diapers, blew up at a Target customer rep only to later apologize after his daughter sheepishly acknowledged the truth. She was pregnant. Target had been correct. Afterwards, Target was less explicit about their predictions. Even knowing you were almost certainly pregnant they’d intersperse ads for lawnmowers in with the diapers.
Sometimes I think they were just too early. The world wasn’t ready for that kind of advertising back in 2012. Since then data has proliferated, methods have improved and our sensibilities have diminished. It’s not surprising Amazon knows this about us.
New technology like smaller health monitors (e.g. Fitbits) and mixed reality platforms (e.g. virtual reality headsets) offer new insights into us as people.The promise of mixed reality also holds the promise of more sensitive data pouring into company coffers. They’ll know more about our hopes, dreams, fears.
It’s difficult to imagine this trend reversing anytime soon. Companies like Amazon will have increasing power to influence our shopping habits. They’ll know what we want before we know it. They might know about your next major life event before you do.