Inference For Profit: How Credit Card Companies Can Predict the Future

Author: Alex Hamilton
Published: February 26, 2012 at 5:06 am
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Who have you told you are pregnant? Who have you told you are having marriage problems? Well you should add to that list your credit card company, Target and many others. These companies have gone beyond just using your data for basic trend lines of sales, to a point where they can predict your future.

That's right, predict the future. No, your credit card company is not psychic, scary as that thought would be, with enough data a company can predict what is going on in your life. From the Huffington Post: "According to Marissa Meyer at Google, some credit card companies can now use your purchasing decisions to predict whether you're going to get a divorce with 95% accuracy — two years out."

That's right, two years out. Why a credit card company would want that information is for them to know and us to ponder (increased risk of credit issues?), but what it shows is that we spend so much of our lives filling vast warehouses with data about ourselves, and big companies have finally started connecting the dots. Quite literally it seems. Purchase A + Purchase B = Divorce in two years time.

This opens up all sorts of ethical issues that we as a society have yet to deal with. For example, we generally have a right to privacy, but do we have a right to the privacy of the inferences that could be made about us? How about those little lines in privacy documents where we let a big company sell our data to another company, do they sell inferences too?

Pregnancy is a very personal thing to a woman, but not personal enough for Target in the USA to stay away from trying to predict it. With great success mind you. Great New York Times article about it here. Essentially having a baby means that a woman throughout her pregnancy will purchase certain items at certain times in her pregnancy. Targeted marketing coming in your direction little lady. And hopefully a long-term customer for Target in the sweet spot for any company: someone who is buying necessities not accessories.

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Article Author: Alex Hamilton

Alex is the creator and writer of his own website and blog, The Xavier Post. He writes about politics, technology, philosophy and more. In addition to his website and blog, Alex also consults on online identity and social media strategy for public …

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