TechMom Tuesday: Targeted Baby on Board?

TechMom

I write a monthly column over at AlliOSNews. It’s a techie site – extolling all the goodies and gunpowder on the Apple OS. (SHINY TOY!) I’m TechMom. And these are my stories on how technology is really used. This is what you must deal with, as I am a Silicon Valley nerd by day.

I’m well aware it’s Wednesday. TechMom Tuesday is typically published the first Tuesday of every month, but this month your techie insights were delivered a week late because last week was a holiday week. I reserve the right to rant more or less as the technical goings-on, well…go on.

Spoiler alert: No. Although Target seems to think my purchasing habits indicate otherwise.

I was typing away in my cube at work when I got a text from Jon: “Why does Target think you’re pregnant?”

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I figured they’d sent some circular of coupons that included some sort of discount for diapers. Nope. It was a complete registry packet – “a helpful little guidebook as you start planning for baby.”

Baby Planner

According to Target statistician Andrew Pole, from a 2012 New York Times article, “new parents are a retailer’s holy grail.” So it makes sense that establishments try to reach potential clientele as early as possible.

The flyer was addressed to Patricia, so I know the data was collected via my purchasing habits gleaned from activities using my full name. We may think the digital tracking system has completed its full transition to a Big Brother watchdog state, but sometimes the cookies crumble.

Target

As noted in the article, “We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, ‘Here’s everything you bought last week and a coupon for it… And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

(Umm…seriously? Read that last paragraph again and tell me you don’t have a WTF moment.)

At first glance, this doesn’t seem out of the ordinary at all. Buy groceries at Safeway and get a slew of coupons. Amazon lists personalized recommendations. Convenience and complacency have lulled the majority of people to trade away personal information. (When was the last time you actually read a Terms & Conditions popup?) Apparently I’m not the only one caught in Target’s web.

“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

Target’s publicly published privacy policy states the following information is routinely collected for analysis:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Email
  • Phone number (home and cell)
  • Drivers license
  • Credit/debit card
  • Birthday
  • Purchase/return/exchange history
  • Registry events

We collect data that’s publicly available. For example, information you submit in a public forum (e.g. a blog, chat room, or social network) can be read, collected, or used by us and others, and could be used to personalize your experience. You are responsible for the information you choose to submit in these instances.

We also obtain information provided by a third party. For instance, we obtain information from companies that can enhance our existing guest information to improve the accuracy and add to the information we have about our guests (for example, adding address information).

This improves our ability to contact you and increases the relevance of our marketing by providing better product recommendations or special offers that may interest you.

No wonder the biggest retail breach in U.S. history, from Target’s point-of-sale, was such a boondoggle for the company and boon to the hackers.

The Times article continues its examination of data collection and statistics with the finding that, “As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score.”

Some of the items noted in the story:

  • Magnesium: Often used as a supplement for digestive issues as it functions as a laxative – maybe something like Miralax for a 4-year-old’s poop issues.
  • Zinc: Lozenges comprising this mineral are the go-to treatment for remedying the common cold. And as preschool is synonymous with germ factory, multiple 4-year-olds share a lot of viral infections.
  • Scent-free soap: Scrubbing off all those germs can be done without spending the rest of the day smelling like an over-ripe mango. Also, hives.
  • Extra-big bags of cotton balls: It’s always handy to have extras around. You never know when you’ll accidentally drop a handful into the sink because you accidentally knocked over the jar to prevent a TechTot from brushing the dogs teeth with your toothbrush.
  • Hand sanitizer: I did recently purchase a full case of Purell off of Amazon. The TechTots are boys; I have yet to recover from my addiction to sanitizer borne in the NICU. (Also my cousin just graduated from high school, and I thought some Purell would be a great off-to-college gift.)
  • Washcloths: See above notation about boyish nature of TechTots. Man, can those kids get dirty. It’s not uncommon to pick them up from preschool and think, “Well, I can’t be certain these are my children under such layers of grime, but I’ll just scrub them down and return tomorrow if necessary.”
  • Cocoa-butter lotion: I have dry skin, ok? It’s the California weather – 89 degrees outside, 8 degrees in the air-conditioned office.
  • Purse large enough to double as a diaper bag: It’s called a mom-purse for a reason. Sanitizer, snacks, change of underwear, random toys, wallet, reading glasses, seeing glasses, sunglasses, iPad, iPhone, keys, wadded-up tissues (most likely unused), Chapstick, gum, headphones, sunscreen, safety pins…
  • Bright blue rug: I’m assuming the Target statisticians see this as nursery décor. It could also be updating the baby room to a big kid room. Or a dog could have thrown up on the existing carpet one too many times.

To be honest I can’t remember what I last bought at Target, so I’m not sure what items tipped me over the “pregnancy predictor” scale. Yet, when I review some of the items noted above, I can’t help but think maybe Target is on to something – just four years late.

Of course, if they read my blog, they’d already know that.

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