While I'm on Kevin Drum day, he makes a great post about the general unease he has with the semi creepy dossier that Target gets on its customers:
Charles Duhigg has a fascinating story in the New York Times Magazine this week that's all about the way retailers use data mining and microtargeting to sell you more stuff. Among other things, he tells the story of how Target exploited a pile of clever statistical relations to predict when women were pregnant so that they could send out coupon books full of items that pregnant women might want to buy. As it turns out, Target was unamused by Duhigg's curiosity about how this all worked. When he asked Target to comment, they refused. When he offered to fly out to company headquarters, they told him not to come. When he did anyway, a security guard escorted him off the premises. Quite plainly, Target was concerned that their customers would freak out if they discovered just how much Target knows about them and how accurately Target can aim its marketing bazookas in their direction.
And it turns out Target was right: pregnant women did freak out. So they fine-tuned their coupon books to contain a bunch of random stuff (lawnmowers, videogames) among all the pregnancy-related items. Women who got those coupon books just figured this was the stuff on sale at Target this week and had no idea that it was more than a coincidence that half the offers were for diapers and onesies.
Even more disturbing Slate reports that Romney is doing the same type of thing:
This year, however, as part of a project code-named Orca, Romney’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about religion to send it only to voters with whom canvassers have personally discussed religious views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Romney’s views on the issue.
From a technological perspective, the 2012 campaign will look to many voters much the same as 2008 did. There will not be a major innovation that seems to herald a new era in electioneering, like 1996’s debut of candidate Web pages or their use in fundraising four years later; like online organizing for campaign events in 2004 or the subsequent emergence of social media as a mass-communication tool in 2008. This year’s looming innovations in campaign mechanics will be imperceptible to the electorate, and the engineers at Romney's headquarters racing to complete Narwhal in time for the fall election season may be at work at one of the most important. If successful, Orca would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified political profile.
Would it change your mind to know that it is Obama who is actually doing project Narwhal, instead of Romney with a project Orca?
It probably shouldn't. Even if you trust Obama, there is bound to be a Democrat at some point who isn't worthy of your trust.