Via Facebook, I found a story in the online New York Times Magazine on the data mining Target does with the information it collects when we buy its products using a credit card, coupon, or anything else that identifies us as the purchaser. Their data analysis is so good that they can determine, with a high level of confidence, whether a shopper is pregnant and when she is due. According to the story, they were even determined that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did!
Similarly, Google’s new privacy statement has raised concerns about how much information we, sometimes unconsciously, give to them.
I don’t think these companies are doing anything illegal or even necessarily unethical. We and they are participating in a business transaction; in effect, we sell all of this information about ourselves for the price of credit card rewards, coupons, e-mail, internet searching, online documents, other services and benefits, and even this blog. If I want, I can simply stop participating in many of these transactions, as an article in Forbes suggests, by paying mostly (on only) in cash.
I am beginning to realize that I have not been sufficiently conscious of this transaction even though I have thoroughly participated in it. I have not stopped to ask the question, “How much is my information worth?” Certainly I have implicitly decided its price, but is that the right price? Does that price reflect its true value? I am asking these questions now, and I am not sure what the answers will be.