How tech companies know more about you than you realize

A century ago, the oil industry was one of the most dominant in the world. With rapid industrialization taking place in the 19th century, oil was discovered as a new source of fuel, incentivizing companies to enter this market. During this period, getting your hands on oil was equivalent to getting your hands on gold — it was priceless.

Now, there is a new and upcoming market that is growing at a rapid pace — big data. It is the oil of the digital world, but unlike oil being used as a product, data is used to develop successful marketing campaigns.

It might sound comical comparing the oil industry to data analysis, but this industry has completely taken advantage of consumer lives, whether we are aware of it or not, collecting information to more accurately target audiences, making companies more successful in the long run.

For instance, have you ever wondered why stores constantly ask you to sign up for reward cards? As idealistic as it would be for companies to genuinely want to save you money by incentivizing shopping with rewards for a given amount spent, that isn’t their main purpose.

When you activate a rewards card, your name, email and address are attached, which gives the company the ability to market their products to you both in the mail and digitally in your email. This is why your email is constantly filled with spam messages from your favorite stores. I’m sorry to say that you did that to yourself.

But the marketing doesn’t stop with obtaining personal information. When you scan your rewards card, your name is attached to whatever you are about to purchase, and that data is collected and used to make predictions of other items you might be prone to buying.

Target is an example of a large company using data to increase profitably. Target has made headlines for its usage of data to analyze customer buying patterns or future tendencies. Forbes printed an article in 2012 titled, “How Target Figured Out a Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did,” uncovering how Target used purchases of a young girl to predict she was pregnant, resulting in ads for expecting mothers to be sent to her.

Target uses a “pregnancy prediction score,” which is basically a score that is assigned based off of previously bought items that could correlate to pregnancy. What is even more mind blowing is that through analyzing collected data, Target can predict a due date which is incredibly accurate, allowing the company to send out coupons within specific stages of the pregnancy. They have the ability to market to this extent because of data that is collected in mass quantities, yet often we are unaware of this. Believe me, companies aren’t just extremely precise when guessing what products each household will buy — they hire extremely competent analysts to exploit our human desires and needs.

A rewards card is not the only way data is collected in the present day. Realistically, it is extremely difficult to stay “off the grid” in terms of allowing your personal data to be collected, even if you go to great lengths to prevent it.

With billions of people running accounts on various social media platforms, analysts and automation bots are collecting massive amounts of consumer data on a daily basis. When you think about it, how would it be possible for companies to exist and be extremely profitable when the product is free to use — it’s not. Instead of paying for the product with physical money, we are essentially paying with personal information that is collected in bulk quantities in the form of data and used for marketing techniques, which in turn makes the company profit. Mind boggling, I know.

Facebook, much like any other social networking site, is home to enormous amounts of data, since 2.37 billion people have an account. With that much data, an enormous amount of profit can be made on marketing campaigns alone.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg exploited this tactic by inappropriately distributing users’ personal data to large tech companies. Although Zuckerberg was faced with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, this alone goes to show just how powerful big data truly is — everyone wants their hands on it.

To me, big data is the modern day equivalent of “big brother.” It seems as if there is always someone listening, always someone watching and certainly always someone tracking. There honestly have been times where I had conversations about a certain product, and hours later, I will see an ad for that exact product pop up on my internet browser.

Some people are bothered by the fact that so much of their personal information is out in the digital realm, allowing companies to exploit them through marketing campaigns, but honestly, I see no issue. If your information is out there, you put it there. Whether it was through signing up for social media accounts and rewards cards or even hitting the “accept” button on the screen when a website makes you aware that it uses “cookies,” you gave consent for your personal data to be collected.

This is where the world is heading, and we all just need to get with the program. We would rather see ads in the mail and in pop-up browsers for things we would want rather than random products anyways. If you have that big of an issue with the “big data” epidemic, then buy a flip phone and live away from civilization, because in this day and age, it’s hard not to be tracked.