Wednesday, September 20, 2023

You Should Worry About the Data Retailers Collect About You

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You Should Worry About the Data Retailers Collect About You

The Atlantic [free to read]: “…Smartphones gave stores even more refined information about their customers, facilitating new kinds of in-store spying that most people probably don’t even know exists. Mousetrap-size radio transmitters called beacons ping off apps on your phone and can track your location down to the inch inside a store, giving retailers granular insight into what types of products you linger over. 

This information, combined with other data the store has collected itself and bought from third parties, can paint a vivid picture of who you are and what you might be persuaded to buy for what price in the moment: In principle, you can linger over the sugary cereals in the grocery store, opt for the whole grains, and then be served an ad on your phone for 10 percent off Lucky Charms, which the ad may remind you are actually part of a balanced breakfast. Retailers have also started to test facial- and voice-recognition technologies in stores, giving them yet another way to track customer behavior. 

In-store Wi-Fi helps with the signal-inhibiting effects of many stores’ concrete-and-steel construction, but it also allows stores to collect your email address and browsing traffic, and in some cases to install cookies on your device that track you long after you leave the store and its network. Store-specific apps offer deals and convenience, but they also collect loads of information via features that allow you to make shopping lists or virtually “try on” clothing or makeup by scanning your likeness. 

Club cards enable stores to log every item your household purchases and analyze your profile for trends and sales opportunities. Ordinary people may not realize just how much offline information is collected and aggregated by the shopping industry rather than the tech industry. In fact, the two work together to erode our privacy effectively, discreetly, and thoroughly. 

Data gleaned from brick-and-mortar retailers get combined with data gleaned from online retailers to build ever-more detailed consumer profiles, with the intention of selling more things, online and in person—and to sell ads to sell those things, a process in which those data meet up with all the other information big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook have on you. “Retailing,” Joe Turow told me, “is the place where a lot of tech gets used and monetized.” The tech industry is largely the ad-tech industry

That makes a lot of data retail data. “There are a lot of companies doing horrendous things with your data, and people use them all the time, because they’re not on the public radar.” The supermarket, in other words, is a panopticon just the same as the social network…”