Why I Stopped Using Customer Loyalty Cards…

loyalty-cardsThis is a very dangerous posting for me professionally as I design Data Analytics systems for a living, but I feel that need to do an article about this because the warnings have been sounded for years, but only now are people are starting to figure things out after Fox News did a recent article on a massive Government data warehouse in Utah, and they asked the question, “Who is the Government collecting data on anyway?  Now that you are becoming more interested in your personal privacy and are starting to reduce what you put out there, it is time for me to tell you about the #1 thing you do every day all in the name of coupons that you’ll never use.  Loyalty Cards.I won’t lie to you…I used them for a long time. I liked the idea that when I spend XXX amount of money, I’d get a whopping $5.00 gift card in the mail (which, in all honesty, got tossed most of the time in the junk mail pile) or I’d get sixty-eight feet of coupons from a particular pharmacy chain, which, when I didn’t use them in time got tossed in the trash.  Now, if you use your loyalty card you get discounts right at the register in many places.  To that leads me to my main point here…what price are you willing to pay for your privacy?

Let’s just face the facts for a moment.  If you use Google, Bing or Yahoo, your searches are being logged and the data is used by those companies to make money.  Do you think there is any accident in the advertisements that show up on the side of your Google search?  How about Facebook…look at the advertisements that show up there, and then look at the things you have clicked “like” on, and before too long, unless you are really dense, you’ll notice a pattern.  The advertisements that you get are directly correlated to the pages you like, the websites you visit while not on Facebook (thanks to cookies) but also from pages your friends like who have similar interests to you.

CVS Pharmacy now (in many stores) will have you scan your card when you walk in the door and then print out coupons for you.  These are not just random coupons folks…this is done using a technology called “Predictive Analysis”.  This technology goes pretty deep, so rather than just brush over it, I want to take a moment and make sure you READ the definition of Predictive Analysis:

Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of techniques from statistics, modeling, machine learning, and data mining that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future, or otherwise unknown, events. In business, predictive models exploit patterns found in historical and transactional data to identify risks and opportunities. Models capture relationships among many factors to allow assessment of risk or potential associated with a particular set of conditions, guiding decision making for candidate transactions. Predictive analytics is used in actuarial science, marketing, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, retail, travel, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and other fields. One of the most well known applications is credit scoring, which is used throughout financial services. Scoring models process a customer’s credit history, loan application, customer data, etc., in order to rank-order individuals by their likelihood of making future credit payments on time. A well-known example is the FICO score.

Did you catch all of that?  What CVS is doing is printing coupons for you based on your history of purchases which you have freely given them through the use of your loyalty card.  It doesn’t stop there though.  In a famous story from 2006, it was noted that Walmart had discovered that there was a direct relationship to the purchase of diapers and beer.  Simply put, they discovered that when men purchased diapers, they were likely to also pick up their favorite six pack.

I personally find it funny that people are all sort of crazy when it comes to Facebook and your privacy.  I mean, nobody FORCES you to use Facebook, and they provide the service for “free”.  However, something has to pay their bills, and if you only knew the number of servers that Facebook runs on and the amount of storage that sits behind it, you’d wonder how they stay in business.  Simple…you keep them in business because they use the data from your friends list and the likes between you, your friends and their friends and when you click on an ad, they make money.  That’s right…the “free” service is “free” as long as you just use it. I am not bashing Facebook for this.  They provide me a valuable service, and for that service that I use and enjoy, I am willing to give up a little personal privacy.  I don’t write or like anything that I would not like or write in front of my own mother or my wife, so my data is pretty boring.  But what I don’t want to do is go into a store and “check in”, get the coupons they *think* I will use or have to scan my loyalty card in order to get a discount. Sorry…my privacy is worth more than that. I don’t need a computer predicting what I will but based on my history, and I don’t want the store to build a profile of me.  It’s none of their darn business.  And that takes me to the final point of this article…and right back up to the top of the article when I talked about the massive data warehouse that is being built in Utah.  Just what are they keeping in there anyway?

I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I have nothing to hide from anyone. However, as the article on Fox pointed out, while the NSA (National Security Agency) says they are not collecting information on US Citizens, clearly this is something we need to watch out for, and why I am no longer using loyalty cards and will be switching to cash for some, if not all, transactions in the future.

NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, who worked at the NSA for nearly four decades, says it’s about the possibility that the government’s stunning new capacity to collect, store and analyze data could be abused.

“It’s really a– turnkey situation, where it could be turned quickly and become a totalitarian state pretty quickly,” he said. “The capacities to do that is being set up. Now it’s a question of if we get the wrong person in office, or if certain people set up their network internally in government, they could make that happen quickly.”

I go back to what I said a few minutes ago. I am NOT a conspiracy theorist.  But when you look at how the current and even former administration put this stuff into play under the guise of the Patriot Act, and you understand how Analytics works, and you look at how the Government wants to centralize EVERYTHING (healthcare with a single-payer who will have access to ALL your medical records, Universal Background Checks with gun registration, education – see Common Core – , etc. etc.), it doesn’t take anyone very long to pick up on some key things…mainly what that article points out.  In the wrong hands the access to an extreme amount of data that can be used to influence and perhaps control you is staggering.  I do not believe we are there…YET, but we could be if we are not careful.  What happens if someone wanted to put all the pieces together?

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