// Posted by Sam on 02/10/2013 (7:35 PM)
Mark Poster’s intriguing book Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines begins with a compelling introduction. Poster tells us that when googling the phrase “information please,” he came across the story of someone who grew up in a house with one of the first telephones in their neighborhood. The anonymous blogger (named Paul) described how he developed a rather close personal connection to the local telephone operator, Sally. Even though Sally and Paul never met face-to-face, they knew enough about each other to be acquaintances.
Today, many retailers are developing relationships with their customers–but without the customers’ knowledge. Basically, stores such as Target are using customer loyalty cards, cell phones, credit cards, returns, online shopping and search engines and product registration forms to develop individual profiles for all of their shoppers. These profiles, based on purchasing habits, tailor coupons, e-mails, and the like to each individual shopper. Seems like a great idea, right?
Well, in terms of profitability, it is. This Fox Business video describes the success of the ever-expanding phenomenon of customer monitoring. The more a store knows about its customers, the effectively it can purchase inventory, hold sales, etc, leading to more efficient sale of products and a greater profit margin. The issue, however, lies in its morality. The classic story involves Target, who began sending e-mails advertising baby care products to the family e-mail account of a young woman who had bought a pregnancy test and other baby-related paraphernalia. Her father, who she hadn’t told about the pregnancy, was therefore second to find out about a very personal issue behind Target Corporation.
In Poster’s story, the telephone company’s relationship knowing Paul personally was presented as very quaint, even emotional. Would you feel alienated by companies possibly knowing more about you than your personal acquaintances? Do you mind being tracked? Do you expect it? Does profitability in this case outweigh the moral dilemmas that are presented?