An Interesting Experiment on Big Data Marketing: One Woman’s Experience in Trying to Hide Her Pregnancy

Many of you likely remember the article a few years back on how Target was able to predict pregnancy (and even did) for their consumers before they even realized they were having a baby! This caused a big stir in the consumer market. There’s something uncomfortable about knowing that companies can predict your habits before you even do them.

Keeping this in mind, a really interesting experiment was done recently about a lady named Janet Vertesi who found out she was pregnant and decided to try and hide her pregnancy from big data. As we all know, there are far more advanced tracking technologies these days that collect, analyze and identify us as users based on our interactions around the web.  Whether it is posting an engagement on Facebook, mentioning a major life event via email in your Gmail account, or updating your LinkedIn to reflect your recent promotion, your internet behaviors are used to identify your actions, life stages, and predict your upcoming interests and purchases so that marketers can target you with relevant goods and services.

So why the topic of pregnant women? The Financial Times reported via their data value calculator that identifying 1 pregnant woman as a user is worth as much as knowing the age, sex, and location of up to 200 individuals since the critical decisions women make during this time (bottles, diapers etc) can dictate their patters over the next several years. This data is extremely valuable to those brands that are competing for the attention of this target audience.

So what did Janet Vertesi do to essentially “hide” from big data?

  • Refrained from posting about her pregnancy on any social media and requested from friends/family to not mention it at all across social media.
  • Did not use any Google products (Gmail etc) due to the fact that Google scans your emails and your chat content.
  • Used a traceless browser when doing research for baby products (Tor).
  • Purchased items in cash rather than buying them online.
  • Had baby related items shipped to a locker unit rather than personal residence.

Was it worth it? The end result is that trying to hide this information from the cookies, trackers, and data collection happening on the internet was found to be much more work than she had expected. Not only was it far more work, but Janet also conveyed that it was not cost effective! Why? It cost her money. Marketers target this audience with coupons for a variety of baby products. Since using coupons or store brand loyalty cards was not option (when trying to hide from marketers), Janet missed out on saving money on these goods and services that brands offer.

Marketers and consumers can mutually benefit from data collection across the web. Marketers can target you with a product that you are more likely to purchase, want, or need and users could  potentially be more interested in the offerings they are receiving. It all comes down to personal preference on your privacy but in my opinion, I would rather be seeing ads that are relevant to me and my personal interests than something I could care less about. The key is to protect your private information versus your anonymous content consumption habits.

Stefanie Feilinger
Just Media, Inc. 

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