Where Your Demographic Data Goes

Many people are worried about their data and in particular what the government is doing with it.  What I don’t think is evident to many people is what private companies are doing with demographic data and how quickly some of it is sold and past around.  Here are two examples that occurred in the last 4 days.

Friday night I was in the mood for something different than TV offered.  We stopped by Tom Thumb to pick up a few things on the way back from dinner.  I spotted a DVD of the old miniseries from 1982, “The Blue and the Gray” which was a very interesting look at life during the Civil War both for soldiers and citizens on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line.  I highly recommend it and it was 7.99 so I grabbed it to add to my DVD library.

Monday morning I get an email from Amazon.com who has always amazed me with follow up marketing based on your choices and browsing with them in the past.  This time though it was different what did they recommend for me this time…

Now I sure don’t remember looking up anything about the Civil War on Amazon ever, I don’t remember ever and I mean ever getting anything from them before about the Civil War and the timing seems suspicious at best.  This doesn’t really bother me this much other than it shows the technology exists to classify us quickly by what we buy.  This tracking of course was possible because I used my Tom Thumb discount card.

Again I am not mad at Amazon or Tom Thumb, hell I might buy The North and The South but one might want to consider using fake names and trash emails for discount cards at stores in the future since nothing seems to preclude that.

Now here is one that just happened about 15 minutes ago and this one is a bit more concerning just based on who sold my information.  I just got the an email that had the subject “Keep Bear protected from Fleas, Ticks and Heartworm”

Part of the emails says, “Is Bear protected from heartworm, fleas and ticks? The Petango Store is here to help – we’ve got great deals on Frontline flea and tick treatment, and Heartgard heartworm prevention. Bear can stay safe with great savings”. This email was sent by PetHealth Inc.  They sell everything from Pet Insurance to Pet Meds, etc.

So who the hell is Bear?  Bear is actually Max our big happy and protective German Sheppard.  The shelter called him Bear, we changed his name to Max.  All our Vet Records say that, etc.  We have never used the name Bear, ever.  This one is not circumstantial but conclusive.

The only way anyone would ever know my email address and that we have a dog who’s name at one time was Bear is via the Fort Worth Humane Society. In fact there is no doubt at all this is the case because in the email is states, “As a Humane Society of North Texas adopter, you get 10% off your next order!  Use coupon code: 360PA2010

In all honestly if the Humane Society can help more dogs by selling an email list fine, we all get so much spam everyday what is an email or two more.  Besides I am sure I checked a box or something about email updates when we filled out the paper work for Max, most likely the terms that I did not read allowed this type of information sharing.

Nothing is malicious in all of this but it sure shows how a government that wanted to could easily classify its citizens, my bet (foil hat on) is they are likely doing this already at least at a “trends level” (foil hat off).

There are a few lessons in this…

  • Sometimes you may want to give fake or at least one off information
  • There is no longer anything close to privacy in the modern world
  • Not all the spam you get is really spam, most is purchased from people you gave permission to sell it to
  • When you do anything someone knows even when it is something like buying bread
  • This is one reason to keep cash around and a big reason our government doesn’t want to (only 3% of US dollars currently exist as coin and paper)

So what are your thoughts on this?  Have you had similar experiences?

36 Responses to Where Your Demographic Data Goes

  1. An easy dodge for GMAIL users is to insert extra periods in their email address. If I was “josh at gmail” (I’m not), I could give out “j.osh at gmail”. It still goes to the same account, but is easily sortable. You can put them in a folder to view later or automatically delete them. One extra period, a lot of options.

  2. Good post Jack, this is why if a store requires you to have the tracking device (discount card) to get the cheaper price, I shop elsewhere. Your idea of a fake name is probably better though…

    Josh – you know gmail data mines your email right? If you’re ok with that then that’s cool (I’m certainly not). Most people just don’t know.

  3. I’d guess that Facebook is all about demographic mining. They don’t care that you posted something about this guy or that, what’s valuable are your relationships and your likes. I’m sure all the groups etc are categorized and they usually know where you live and your age, what schools etc. Can you imagine the value of all that info?

  4. Jack in Columbus

    I often provide informatio online, just as I had to provide some kind of name and email addy to post this. Whenever I provide info at a web site that asks whether I will agree to receive more offers, I say no and provide a special fake name. It is amazing how much spam and even US mail that fake name gets, which means that many online marketers are lying weasals and sell your info even after saying they won’t. Trust no one online.

  5. Jack – a good reminder to all of us to be mindful of the information we’re giving out. A few years ago, one company I did business with misspelled my last name by one letter. It was interesting to see the junk mail that showed up with the wrong spelling of my last name, and made it easy to sort into the circular file.

  6. Way ahead of you Jack. You may have noticed my email address in the past. Yes, “spambait” is a real address. It is used exclusively for things such as blog posts on the Internet.

    And to your credit… I have yet to receive any special offers. Although you might just catch me with a discount offer on my upcoming MSB renewal. ;-)

  7. Amazon and other sites can pull your likes down just from information you’ve googled via cookies etc. I’ve begun to use startpage instead of google, which does not store any information and will let you utilize a proxy to browse web pages. In addition I use hushmail as my email client as they do not mine or copy your emails.

    Check the tracability of your browser here: https://panopticlick.eff.org/

  8. I have an RFID chip in my neck and am working on implanting a LoJack and GPS rx/tx in there as well.
    I sleep better at night knowing the The JPMChaseGoogle States of ‘mericuh are able to see, track and therefore watch over me 24×7.
    And you thought Jesus was good.

  9. Yes, I’ve had similar eerie experiences. I do not give out my real name, address or email for any grocery store or any other company for that matter. I try to limit my personal info to the people that need it, although some always seems to leak out here and there.

    I also have done what Josh mentioned. I give out a “fake email” that I can check or route to a folder to view later. It really is amazing the lengths that people go to mine for data.

  10. Modern Survival

    @all as noted by some above your data at TSP is safe with us. We do not share data, now what you post publicly can be harvested by bots.

    I personally would not share anyone data for a few reasons.

    1. I find it distasteful to do so.

    2. I find it bad business and not just because it ticks people off. Why the hell would you take the data of your customers and make it available to others. Once you do you loose control of it they can share it with others including your competitors.

    3. It will piss people off, I consider that a negative brand experience. If anyone gets a bad vibe here it will be from one of my rants, not due to something outside of my control.

    Jack

  11. I’ve had similar experience with recommendation showing up in amazon. I’ll have to check out that hushmail!

  12. That’s a good point, Brandon. Gmail does data mine your email and that doesn’t make me happy. But it’s been a long time since I’ve put anything sensitive on the internet. It’s all subject to too much scrutiny.

  13. I use a discount, tracking card, at Safeway and it’s funny when the cashier says, thank you Mr. Doe you saved 5.65 today! I like small town grocery stores that don’t have these BS club cards, Costco has got to be the worst though. They track you all over the network!

    Don’t even get me started on pets. The requirement to take your pet to a vet for remedial stuff is BS. In Montana, my ex girlfriend wanted me to buy her some flea and ticks pet meds off 1800petmeds or something like that. We got the the checkout, and they asked for proof that we had a vet in Helena, and we were refused a sale. New world order is real.

  14. Yeah, ads to buy gold and silver have been following me all over the internet. I haven’t even bought any yet, just looked at a few sites.

  15. Yeah,I googled generators and the next time I went to my yahoo acct.,there was an ad for the very one I had looked at most closely.Freaked me out

  16. I bought 2 Avacados at the local Walmart and 2 days later I got a coupon for Guacamole mix. My wife said how did they know so I reminder her about the discount card. I am a former database admin and where I worked I could tell you who, what and when by zip code if you wanted me to as to what merchandise someone bought.

  17. Jack we love your rants. If we wanted PC, perfectly produced garbage we would listen to commercial radio.

    I learned this week that the CIA had partnered with google to set up a data mining operation. Have not been able to confirm this yet. Have to assume all communications are being read/listened to and categorized.

    I really don’t care they know I’m a patriot that knows how to shoot well.

    The real scary new invasion is these x-ray vans. Think that hidden safe is hidden – think again. They can see the atomic weight of the contents. I imagine gold and silver would glow bright on their screens – as well as gun metal.

    I thought burring stuff was a bit tin foil; but I guess we are there now.

    Keep making us think. Thanks

  18. A while back I was monitoring silver prices at APMEX, along with a few other places. Suddenly APMEX ads were following me everywhere on the net. Then I stopped looking at APMEX and instead poked around at a small but distinctive clothing brand’s online catalog. Suddenly their ads started following me around too!

    This is kinda disturbing. In theory I could just be a victim of confirmation bias – maybe the ads were there before but I just didn’t notice. But I’m positive I’d never seen online ads from either of those companies until that happened. Especially in those numbers, following me around so pervasively.

    I’ll have to disable it if I can figure out what the heck they’re doing to track me like that…

  19. Honestly I think its a good thing that ads are directed at me from what I look at on the web and buy at the store. I would much rather get ads personalized to my taste than generic ads. When I go to my local grocery store and use my discount card they will print out coupons for something similar to my purchases.
    Could this be used against us at some point in our lives, yes. Whats the worst that can happen? I get a fine from the government in the mail saying I bought too many cookies last month? If that ever happens I think we have much more to worry than what I have bought.

  20. For Mozilla FireFox users, there is an add-on called Squiggle, which runs in the background while you surf the web, running endless inane Google searches to confuse such data gathering. Sure, they know you like Carhartt, but now they also think you’re both a Republican and a Democrat with a crush on Paris Hilton. You can actually watch it run crazy searches on the right hand corner of your screen.

    I always use fake email, fake telephone numbers, fake zip codes. Big box stores even think they have a right to your most basic information.

    This reminds me of an episode that Jack makes mention that anyone who refuses to leave your area after you’ve made it clear you want them to leave is engaging you in an attack. I think on some level, most of us understand that when companies take our information and then use it without our express permission, is no less an attack in what could be termed “digital warfare.” At least, that’s how I see it.

  21. The worst to me is the Motor vehicle dept…. you HAVE to give them correct info and then they turn around and sell it… grrrrrr

  22. We have a separate kids line that the kids don’t use anymore, but I do when I fill forms out online. Surprising how that line is now getting 1-800 calls. They don’t get answered because I know they are garbage phone calls.

  23. @Jim3 It’s not that getting coupons you want is nefarious,it is what the information on what you buy wherever, or your fingerprints could be used for by unscrupulous people

  24. I try to stay away from stores that have “savings” cards. Not to be confused with a Bimart or Costco card.

    For the few that I do have, I give out minimal information, like variation of my full name, and mark do not email / call/ snail mail on the sign up cards.

    So far so good so far. If I shop on line, I limit what sites I do buy from.

    One other thing that bothers me is the Red Cross wanting your SSN to identify you when you give blood. On the SSN card it states if you have one of the older ones ‘not valid for identification’.

    Simple rule of thumb is it really worth it to get the what ever it is for the cost, if you also have to give anything else for information to make the purchase? If the vendor gets sticky about it, find another vendor and let every one know why you did so.

  25. Modern Survival

    @Charlie

    That type of thing is a LOT less concerning, it is not really about you, only your browser. It is a common marketing tactic called “retargeting”.

    Big ad networks sell surplus advertising cheaply with it. You put a code on your site, a visitor comes to it and gets a cookie, when they visit any site in the network (if surplus advertising is available) you see the banner of the site you viewed.

    The thing is this isn’t someone knowing what Charlie did or what Charlie likes only where the computer you used went. It doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t have any potential for harm and it isn’t linked to you by name, etc. None of your data gets shared with this because they don’t really know WHO the user is.

    Of all of these things that type is a pretty benign technology.

  26. Modern Survival

    @grog,

    Personally it doesn’t really bother me that Tom Thumb might tell Amazon I bought a DVD, I certainly don’t mind it when they send us coupons for stuff we buy and given on a 300 dollar stock up we might save 80 dollars with the card it ain’t pocket change.

    Those really worried about a Kroger Card or Tom Thumb Card miss the point here. This is not about Kroger watching you, it demonstrates what can be done. Trust me Uncle Scam doesn’t care if you buy Kraft or Generic Mac and Cheese.

    The key is by using this same technology and tying it to “financial relationships” which the patriot act gave full ability to the government to do, what can big brother track by watching your bank accounts, retirement accounts, toll tag, web browsing, etc.

    In short the only thing Amazon has done to me is make their ads on target and therefore useful and less annoying. Facebook shows me ads about stuff I like, no foul there but what does the government know?

    Trust me they don’t need access to Google to find out. You want to talk about “false flag” saber rattling like that is a real false flag. Make people pay attention to something like that while you cookie browsers left and right via every .gov site on the net and………………

  27. Modern Survival

    @Candee and how is anyone going to use the fact that you buy Kraft Mac and Cheese or Pork Chops against you.

    Read my comment above for more.

  28. It’s not an issue,it is as you said, the capability to track what you do. And.my fingerprints are mine.However, I am old enough to remember when there were Sunday bluelaws in place where you could not buy stuff on a Sunday. Either certain stores couldn’t open or certain aisles were blocked off (i.e. you could buy aspirin and such, but not food or anything else). Originally it was NO stores were allowed to open on a Sunday. And that was NYS(allegedly liberal state. Was repealed in my lifetime and I’m 56. If certain people get into power and decide they want to dictate what people can do and when again,it would certainly apply, It’s not paranoid to expect when you’ve already lived it once.

  29. Hey thanks for telling us about how the ad networks do their thing. It’s a little less alarming now. Although, the overall psychological effect is unsettling to the point of being counterproductive. It’s like having a friendly but creepy salesman follow me all over town. Makes me at least want to (metaphorically) hide my wallet and pretend I don’t see him.

  30. Modern Survival

    @Charlie most people don’t see it that way, of course most people are not really paying attention. What it allows a lot of small time marketers to do is look big. Most can’t afford to advertise on really huge sites but they can “retarget” their visitors on them.

    So small website A is able to look a lot bigger to his visitors who see his brand on larger sites. Here is a site that sells this type of service, http://www.retargeting.com/

  31. About six months ago I bought a Rat 7 survival knife. Hunting tip, chopping edge, etc – just a thick 1095 high carbon steel knife. Well, about a month after I bought the knife, I noticed my bank account was the exact price of the knife over the limit, and I contacted the knife company and asked why they charged me twice. They said they didn’t charge me twice and were very helpful and told me to contact the bank. So I contact the bank.

    Now it gets weird. I called customer service and verified my ID and was put on hold for almost 15 minutes. A male voice comes on the other line and verifies me again, but in a different way and asks how I can be helped. I said, well my account is over drawn and I was charged twice from a retailer. He asks, “What did you buy at Military Supply Net?”.

    “Was it a knife?”

    “Did you buy guns?”

    I didn’t answer the fed’s question, but stated I wanted the problem fixed now, and 15 minutes later my account went back to the plus amount of 5.50.

    Banksters are evil DHS thugs!

  32. infragard.net/

    InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.

  33. Cryptozoic on-the Forum

    When I jokingly tell people we’ll have to fight the computers someday, I also tell them the way to exercise whatever degree of control you wish to have over the system, whether it be maintaining privacy or serious Terminator stuff. Everything ‘they’ know about you, they found out FROM YOU.

    I repeat: “you told them, you left the paper trail”. In the famous 1967 Miranda decision (you know, that thing about reading you your rights, as if modern cops would ever actually define the moment when you are “under arrest…” [God rest Jack Webb in Peace, he earned it]
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0384_0436_ZS.html
    SCOTUS said “90% of criminal convictions are a direct result of admissions and confessions”. That’s why I can’t watch “Cops” on TV; the idiots just can’t shut up and I end up screaming at the TV…
    So the solution/tactic is obvious: tell them what you want to be known and don’t tell them what you don’t want to be known.

    Yea, it’s as simple as that. You control the picture here in the Outer Limits.

    GIGO (garbage in = garbage out) is a very effective way of dealing with computers. It’s the ‘101’ answer and it works. When I want The Man to know what I’m doing (living a mostly ordinary kind of life) I use the Kroger discount card or pay for something with my ATM card. When I don’t want “them” to know, I pay cash. If I really did’t want them to know, I would leave my cell phone and car at home. Do I have another cell phone or another car? Did I take the bus, call a friend from a pay phone, wipe off the fingerprints? No, because friends can talk. If I want privacy, I must be private.

    “A Warrior lives strategically”
    Especially Warriors of the Spirit.

    Here’s an actual practice example of leaving a false trail, or at least a confused one: Google, Yahoo and whatever Signal Intelligence is called these days (DHS subsidiary) profiles internet users. My IP address is known and tied to my real name. Depending on what one is doing on the internet, one falls into various profile categories.

    I have become a Yahoo Answers addict. I answer questions in lots of different categories. I research my answers, meaning my internet usage is all over the map as to what I appear to be interested in. I realize the profiling is all automated so just for fun I try to raise a few red flags now and then (made an International phone call to the Israeli Mint lately? I did in the 80s,{seems like yesterday} about a commemorative coin. And followed it up with a paper letter. Back in the days of landlines my phone had strange audio clicks for a week). In the computer age, one doesn’t hear the clicks, but you can add a flag to your ‘profile’ (business or government) DELIBERATELY, meaning for a reason.

    So thanks to http://www.answers.yahoo.com the profilers probably have me somewhere in the territory of a Fundamentalist Christian and/or anti-Christian of some sort, probably on The Fringe, almost certainly a gay lumberjack with interests in history, woodworking, backpacking and sewing, with secondary interests in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah), tool grade steel, and several unnatural sexual practices, some involving chickens and/or opossums who definitely prefers silver to diamonds.

    Meanwhile, back at The Ranch, whenever I buy a gun from a licensed dealer, (there’s a “one-a-month” rule in my State) I have to fill out the FBI form and they make the phone call. If I didn’t want a trail, I’d not buy from a licensed dealer…

    On the other hand
    They probably never knew about all the tinfoil….
    Hey, I paid CASH for that tinfoil, they never knew, no way they could know…! ;-) Oh, wait. Do the cameras in that store have facial recognition software? If Monsanto really wanted to use its connections with the CIA, could they apply facial recognition software to those store videos? Is the resolution good enough? What about the traffic cam at the stoplight? Oh Crap! They might know I bought all that tinfoil!

    I gotta go.

  34. Did you use cash? I wonder if you used your debit card…the same one that you make purchases from amazon with, if they can track all other purchases with the same card?

  35. I agree with you 100%. My wife started looking into home based businesses to get me started in. One day of searching took me three weeks of opting out.
    Thee is no true privacy anymore, unless you completely disconnect from the world, like a hermit. If you want any kind of life, you that deals with “the real world” then spam is one of the consequences of that life.
    Thanks for all you do.

  36. @M.S. Yes there is true privacy. I once heard of some guys who often borrowed Joe’s car. The car was registered to Joe and insured. Did Joe ever exist?

    I rest my case.