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Know What You’re Doing Before Using Those Supermarket Reward Cards

This post isn’t specifically about Park City, but it applies to us. Many of us use our rewards cards, at places like Smith’s. Other times we key in our phone numbers at places like Fresh Market or Petco to get a discount. Yet what happens to that information behind the scenes?

I had always assumed that the companies probably used that data internally to provide coupons or send mailers. Looks like I was a little naive.

This weekend I was reading an article about Ted Cruz, who is running for President. If you follow politics, you probably know he won the Iowa Republican Caucus. Yet, the tools he used to win were surprising to me. According to the Associated Press, “The scope of Cruz’s system is formidable. Cambridge’s (the company supplying information to the campaign) database combines government and commercial data sets such as voter rolls and lists of people who liked certain Facebook posts, along with consumer data from grocery chains and other clients that can provide a voter’s preferred brand of toothpaste or whether he clips coupons.”

What this is saying is that your detailed shopping history appears to be available for sale. Want a list of all people in Summit County that buy organic meat, you can probably get it. Want to know who both “liked” Mountain Trails on Facebook and also buys dog food? No problem. The possibilities are really only limited by someone’s ability to slice data and target voters.

Let’s say in the 2016 Summit County Council race, a Republican candidate decides to challenge Roger Armstrong. Since Mr Armstrong was the County Council member who started the county down the path of greater leash law enforcement (and holding public hearings, and forming a dog task force, etc.), the challenger decided to hit him hard on dogs. The challenger realizes it is hard to unseat an incumbent, especially a Democrat, in Summit County. So, she has to go after hot button issues. How does she do it? She buys a list of people and addresses who have voted in the last 8 years, who are not affiliated with a party, who buy pet supplies, and support Mountain Trails on Facebook. She then creates a targeted campaign directed at those voters. She then repeats it on other areas of perceived weakness for Roger Armstrong. What does that cost her? Ted Cruz spent $3 million for nationwide information. Could our hypothetical candidate get the lists required for just Summit County for $20K? Probably.

Now, in Mr Armstrong’s case, I hope that doesn’t happen. While I don’t agree with him on every stance, I think he has done a good job over the past three years. However, that won’t stop a competitor from using our own personal information for their agenda. I know $20K sounds like a lot, but I think around $100,000 was spent in the last Park City mayoral election between the two candidates.

Likewise, a similar strategy could be used for school board elections. Why blanket Park City with mailers and email when you can target the perfect people with the perfect information. Find people who have voted recently and don’t have kids. Target them with specific messages that suit the cause.

By us freely giving up our personal information, without realizing the consequences, it may be used against us.

Now, you may say I don’t care if Kroger in Cincinnati (Smith’s) knows that I buy kale three times a week. I don’t care that all my likes on Facebook are correlated with other information to create a perfect digital representation of me. I am saving 20 cents a gallon gas. Fair enough.

I just hope that on your life insurance policy you didn’t declare you were a non smoker, when sometime in 2013 you bought a Swisher Sweet cigar at your local grocer. There’s nothing like DATA to ruin that perfectly good life insurance policy that your wife is depending on.

Note: I don’t know that Smith’s, Fresh Market, PETCO, etc. sell purchasing data. They may not. But it seems a lot of people must be doing that.


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