Can Companies Can Learn Your Secrets?

Description:  “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”


Date: Feb 16, 2012


As the marketers explained to Pole — and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop — new parents are a retailer’s holy grail. Most shoppers don’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy groceries at the grocery store and toys at the toy store, and they visit Target only when they need certain items they associate with Target — cleaning supplies, say, or new socks or a six-month supply of toilet paper. But Target sells everything from milk to stuffed animals to lawn furniture to electronics, so one of the company’s primary goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s a tough message to get across, even with the most ingenious ad campaigns, because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them.  READ REST OF STORY 

 Questions for discussion:

  1.  Are there any ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer services?
  2. What other commercial applications can you see for organizations in using big data?
  3. What skill would you need to be able to use Big Data in an organization that you work for

123 thoughts on “Can Companies Can Learn Your Secrets?

  1. Joan G.

    For consumers like us we might think this is unethical, but collecting data about consumers is not illegal, so for us consumers we cannot argue that they cant collect our information, and how can we even know that they are collecting our information. Most people wont even know that this is happening and I didn’t even know that companies do this thing, until I learn it in MIS. But maybe there is a good side about companies using big data, and is that they can enhance our experience with their companies.

    Big data use is practically endless; almost every company can use it. With companies that knows how to utilize the information they collect, they can do anything, whether they use it like Target do, or other things like selling to other people.

    You would probably need analytical skills; analyzing data, programming, creating processes, and etc. Having information that you need is nothing if you cant analyzes what the information is telling you, so its important that you can analyze and interpret the information that you have. Programming, you need to understand how sophisticated software works in order to collect data effectively. There probably more skills needed in order to use Big Data and make sense of it.

  2. Victoria Cao

    I feel uncomfortable with companies getting all the personal information and store them into a data base. There can be ethic dilemmas in using big data base. Companies can collect customers information and sell them to other companies, and they can use those information to threaten people’s live. I can also see air ticket agencies using big data. They can see from the the transaction how often the customers will travel, and they can provide more promotion to those customers so they will come back and buy tickets from them. If companies are using big data, they should have policy about what they can do with the data. They should train their employees to be more ethnics, and they should have Prohibition for employees who are disobey the policy.

  3. Esther S

    1. Yes, there are ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer service. Not only have people been hacked, they have also be scammed. The sense of privacy has shrunk because almost anyone can get our information from the data that was entered at the bank, online stores, etc. However, without putting entering our personal information into some databases, there is little to nothing that we can do. Example include banking, shopping, connecting with friends and families (in cases like Facebook and Skype) and some other day to day activities.

    2. Organizations can use Big data to do almost anything and everything. It can be used to predict what consumers want before they even request for it. This is because of the series of accumulated data and information that they have about a person or a group of similar individuals. This increases consumer satisfaction and for them, increases sales. It can also be used in the health care industry to improve the quality of patient treatment — and save lives.

    3. One would need specific skills to be able to work in an organization that uses Big Data. These include creativity, where the individual would come up with innovative methods of applying data analytics, solving problems even before they arise. Also some business skills. These individuals should have an understanding of the company’s business goals and objectives as well as having a grasp of indicators that lets them know that they are heading in the right direction. Communication and analytical skills are also important.

  4. Daniel Rottger

    There are some ethical issues surrounding the idea of big data, that is no doubt. Consumer privacy is being invaded whether they realize it or not. Its not that the companies using big data are “lying” to their consumers, they just aren’t out-right telling them that data is being collected. Many of us don’t realize how much of our personal information is out there for companies use. That is until we start to see strangely familiar ad’s pop up on the sides of each different website we visit. This data that companies obtain is obviously used to influence which products are being advertised and how they are doing it. If big data is continued to be used by companies to collect personal information (which it will), there needs to be some sort of ground rules set, perhaps laws even, protecting the oblivious public.

  5. Sabrina

    There are ethical dilemmas using big data in consumer services and this article does a good job at conveying that to me as a reader. I have no problems with a store like target taking my personal information like ethnicity, age, married, where I live, how long it takes me to drive to the store, credit cards I use, job history, etc. I have no problems when they send flyers based on what I am previously bought to allow me to save money on products. I have no problems with the knowing if I was pregnant or not and how far along I am in the pregnancy. What I do have a problem with big data and the way organizations use the data is how they approach the consumer with the information they have gathered.

    One thing the organizations assume is that I am a mindless person when I shop and that always when I shop, I am chunking information to mindlessly shop. To reduce the effort that my brain is using i chunk the information and only buy certain things. Yes I can agree that we form habits to conserve our effort but I don’t think that when I am walking back and forth that I am always shopping out of habit. Also if I always followed the cues and then rewarded myself I would buy everything in the store. I also have a problem with organizations or company using that personal information to contact with congratulatory things. For example, in the article Target sent a high school student congratulations for being pregnant when she had not told her family yet. Personal information can be used to try and entice shoppers but it is up to a person’s free agent to then decide what to buy.

  6. Jaylen Korver

    There’s a big ethical problem in using big data in consumer services. Target especially, although they think they are catering to their customers, they are basically stealing personal information. The majority of users are unaware this is even happening. They sign up for rewards, and all of a sudden all the purchasing data is recorded every time they buy something, and stored in a database.
    Credit card companies and other services that allow you to purchase items can record what you purchase, then recommend similar items, or even items that are frequently bought together. As mentioned in the previous article, this can be used as a competitive advantage over other businesses in your industry. Stores can use this data in general, as in knowing which items are popular and which should be discontinued, or in a personal sense, sending specific ads to members who purchased a certain item.
    First off, you would need a good idea of how computers work, and how to run the programs that are specifically made to understand big data. Having a good knowledge of marketing would also be beneficial, as you could analyze trends, and cater to specific needs of individual customers at your store.

  7. Gray.yu

    1.Are there any ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer services?
    Yes,I think there are eihical dilemmas to using bid data in consumer services. I don’t think everyone know that their information can be used to guess something is privacy for them. We can’t deny that the using of big data in consumer services sure make it convenient for us to receive advertisements. But the company should tell us , what they will know by using bid data, when they ask for our information.

    2.What other commercial applications can you see for organizations in using big data?
    I know some e-commerce, ike E-bay, Taobao and Jingdong in China. Customers search what they want everyday, there will be a large of data left. It’s very useful for company, from those data ,we can learn that which goods is the one of the most be searched, it maybe the next popular things . If we know it ,we can invest it immediately. And another way to use it,we can learn what is the goods which the customer usually like , we can advertise the particular goods for him, It’s not only convenient for customer ,but also practical for merchants, they can save their money for advertisement and get a better effect.

    3.What skill would you need to be able to use Big Data in an organization that you work for.
    I think I need to learn how to collect those data first, we should know which is useful for us ,which is useless. And then I need know how to deal those data, I don’t think we can use excel to process those data for the information what we want. I mean, I need to learn some computer technology.

  8. rahul

    There are many ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer service mainly privacy and manipulating people’s subconscious to make huge profits. The public does not think about the implications and the possible implications of authorizing large corporations like Target access to their information. This mainly is because there is a lack of technological knowledge lacking in the public, which creates a naive customer base who can be exploited for profitability.
    Big data can be used to increase sales and the productivity of any product in any field. A proper analysis of data by a good data analyst like Andrew Pole will result in knowing the products pros and cons. Though most companies use Big data for mostly advertising, instead of using big data to increase the quality/features of the product.
    A major skill/asset would be having a good analytical mindset. A degree in any one of the math, statistics or any data analyzing degree would be a requirement. Having experience or a certification in data analyzing programs like R programming would be a very good skill.

  9. Aaron Krein

    1. I believe that there are ethical dilemmas in using big data in consumer services. These companies are capable of gathering more information about you than they need. Knowing every website you visit or everything you have searched on google. Of course this information may be used in a mutually beneficial way but i’m sure there are certain things that consumers would rather not be common knowledge.
    2. The possibilities for big data are endless. Social networking stands out to me, however. There are now over a billion users on facebook and the amount of information available on these individuals is likely insurmountable. Using big data would allow them to analyze this information more effectively and efficiently.
    3. A background in statistics or experience with computer technologies would be essential. You would also need to have great interpretation skills. Simply put you would need to know what you are looking to get out of the information and where to look for it. You have so much information thrown at you that you would really need to understand what is relevant and what isn’t in order to cut down the amount of information that you need to process.

  10. david.p

    1. Are there any ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer services?
    In my opinion, yes, there are ethical dilemmas. Target uses a slimy method to get information from us. The majority of users are most likely unaware of this; that’s why I believe that it’s unethical for target to continue using this method.
    2. What other commercial applications can you see for organizations in using big data?
    -I can see other corporations using this application to gather more personal/useful information to work with. By scanning credit cards corporations are able to track the consumers taste and history; this provides suppliers with a better understanding of how to do continue business. It can be considered a competitive advanatge

    3)What skill would you need to be able to use Big Data in an organization that you work for
    Big data is an asset, as it is a pool of information. How useful raw data if you can’t weed important information? Key skills would include: being able to weed out the most valuable information; the ability to find trends in the market ; and the ability to process/simply information given.

  11. Ashley-Raye Miles

    Some individuals may believe that big data has some ethical issues attached to it, but in reality the benefits of big data make these issues minimal. People who are shopping online for example have to know that companies are using their information based upon what is provided. For example, if an individual were to go online shopping, there may be different advertisements that come up to best suit your searches or interests. People may have issues regarding ethical concerns but in reality they have to know to some extent that what they are doing is being monitored to a degree – you can look at it in a positive or a negative way.
    The use of big data can benefit everyone, especially businesses. Businesses can know specific things about customers, trends, preferences. Any industry can benefit from big data and all it has to offer because it is “all knowing”.
    Not anyone can simply just use big data at their disposal. Big data is called big data for a reason-IT’S BIG! The amount of volume that is connected with everything in big data is massive and an individual must be trained to even know where to start – quite overwhelming!

  12. Lukas Grasse

    One of the main ethical dilemmas with using big data in consumer services relates to the scope of data use. Many customers wittingly or unwittingly give consent to companies to use their data without realizing the extent to which this data is used. Many times the data is of value to other companies. In this case is it ethical to sell data to other companies? Here’s an article from a year ago, where the FTC investigated 12 fitness apps. The article states, “When the Federal Trade Commission studied 12 mobile health and fitness apps, it found they disseminated user app data to 76 third parties.” My guess is that most of these people didn’t realize their fitness data was being shared to this extent. And fitness data is fairly personal data. As we start to share more and more personal data with apps and devices, this will be one of the main ethical dilemmas.
    As far as the skills needed to use Big Data in an organization, it would definitely help to have a comp sci and stats background; however, applying machine learning skills and analyzing large sets of data is a skill that takes a wide range of knowledge. It’s more of a skill that needs a mix of domain knowledge and a some technical skill mixed in. There probably aren’t lots of entry level jobs as a data scientist, but there is also lots of room for self teaching.

  13. Bobby Hamilton

    In the case of the article at hand, I do not see how using big data for customer service is a problem. I do find it crazy to think that retailers will go as far as pinpointing which women are pregnant to bombard them with advertisements, offers and incentives. I really do not feel as though it is a problem because they are still providing these newborn mothers with available services and products to purchase. It is smart to try and identify your main customer case. The fact that big data can help a certain store recognize the volume, variety and velocity of data is a major help to their organization.
    Big data probably played a major role in target becoming such a supermarket for new parents. They were most likely able to recognize that new parents were sent running around from grocery store, to toy store, to clothing store and etc. This big data allowed them to estimate the success of their wide variety of products that they offer.
    From an ethical standpoint, I do not feel that big data in the consumer services industry commits any acts of wrongdoing. They are able to provide a service and help their business flourish using big data. This should be the goal of any consumer service company.

  14. Brittany Doell

    1.Yes I do believe their are some ethical issues. I think that peoples privacy is being invaded which many people do not even realize that there is data that is being collected. Without even realizing it, our personal information is all around us because companies use that data to influence what and how they are advertising. I do think that if the big data continues to grow and be used, the users should have a clear understanding who has their information and how they are going to use it.

    2. Big Data could honestly be used for pretty much any industry. Basically any industry that wants to know more about the wants or needs of their customers could use it. Big data can increase a companies sales. It also would save the company a lot of time and money in getting the information.

    3. Some skills that you would need is to be highly organized as well be able to see the big picture. Their would be a lot of data coming your way and you would have to sort through it to get only the stuff that would be related to your project/business. Mathematical skills would also be important as well as being able to find patterns in the information and how it may relate to you.

  15. Megan Melvin

    Are there any ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer services?
    There are ethical dilemmas in using big data in consumer services. It seems like these retailers like Target know just about every detail about an individual, everything from their shopping habits to which credit cards they use to details about whether they have ever been divorced or not. Some information just does not seem relevant, and much of it is purchased without the individual’s consent. If consumers knew this information was being collected about them, it is likely they would no longer shop at that particular store, although in reality many large name retailers likely follow the same practice.

    What other commercial applications can you see for organizations in using big data?
    Organizations using big data would also likely apply it to improve their own efficiencies within the company, by using faster, more secure systems.

    What skill would you need to be able to use Big Data in an organization that you work for?
    In order to use Big Data in an organization, one would need to possess skills in data analysis, information technologies, and statistics. It would also be beneficial to have knowledge in consumer behavior to analyze the company’s customers’ shopping habits.

  16. Billie Loder

    1. In my opinion the big data market can be unethical if used wrong. with all this information out there floating around and no idea who can use it or what they may be using it for. There are many benefits about information to be out there for example more personalized shopping experience. On the other hand the information is out there and anyone who knows how to access it can and that’s the unethical part.

    2. the possibilities are endless. one application would be able to direct you right away to the type of products you want through the gather of information on you. companies would know who would be most successful in targeting.

    3. some of the skill that I would think is most relevant would be computer skills, reading and researching. all these skill you would need to dig through any data. especially if there is lot out there, you would use these skills to find the basic what, why, who, when, and how questions.

  17. Travis

    1. There are defiantly ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer services such as what target is currently doing. It seems to take what people believe to be private information and market it back to consumers. Though a technical marvel and financial goldmine the use of Big Data in marketing will definitely gain public attention and complaint. This process seems to treat people as numbers instead of individuals which will inevitably rile up a large sum of consumers when or if it becomes public knowledge.
    2. Big data can be used largely for marketing in any organization. The collection and proper integration of this knowledge can lead to exponential growth within a company. Big Data can also be used to for development of new products and effectively gauging their popularity and if said product can be profitable.
    3. Big data is largely to do with mathematics but more specifically the statistical analyzation of information. Target was successful with this by creating an algorithm to aim marketing tactics in the proper direction. However mathematics and stats would not be enough to effectively formulate and use big data. A knowledge of technology and computer systems would also be a primary benefit.

  18. Bryce Baker

    1  Are there any ethical dilemmas to using big data in consumer services?

    There are certainly ethical dilemmas, but I’m not sure if these dilemmas would put anyone’s well-being in imminent danger under any circumstances. They gather a lot of information about you, and in ways it could be potentially dangerous, but this is why they implement such strict data security procedures. As was said in the video, consumers are basically handing over this information via Target credit cards and what not. In the credit application there is probably even fine print stating that the consumer allows them the privilege. But I wouldn’t know, I don’t read those long agreements either.

    2 What other commercial applications can you see for organizations in using big data?

    The application possibilities are endless. I think another commercial application would be product placement. Using Big Data we will be able to further and more closely examine what is being purchased and what order things are being purchased in. It will also positively influence seasonal promotions for products. By observing patterns in product selection, and the order in which products are picked from the shelves, the shopping experience could become much more convenient than it is.

    What skill would you need to be able to use Big Data in an organization that you work for

    Research skills would be imperative. You would have to be very analytical and precise. You would benefit from being inclined in the collection and organization of data sets. Computer science skills would also be very relevant. You would also have to have strong communication and interpersonal skills.

  19. Taylen Oancia

    1) I believe there are certainly some dilemmas or problems with open access to the use of big data in customer service, especially when it comes to who can access personal information. The difference on whether or not someone finds something intrusive is largely personal, and although much of the information that is recorded can be accessed easily, people will still view this data harvesting and behavior analysis as a largely invasive practice, a breach of privacy. Although it can lead to an easier shopping experience in some cases, I believe that the vast majority of people in our society would agree that this is a breach of privacy; however the population is largely ignorant to the actual degree in which they are being monitored.

    2) I can see many sorts of commercial application for this big data, the largest of which is sales data mining that is used for targeted marketing toward specific consumers. People have very established habits, and the data from these habits is very valuable to companies and marketing groups trying to sell very specific items to people.

    3) In order to utilize big date you must have both the physical components and computing power to actually sort and process the data, as well as the technical computer knowledge and expertise to design and run such sophisticated computer hardware and software programs. As big data and its ramifications become more and more widely known, companies will have to commit more and more resources toward utilizing the potential this has for their company.

  20. Chris Hansen

    This entire case is basically a huge ethical dilemma. On one hand, you have identified ways, legal ways, of finding which of Target’s customers are pregnant. On the other hand, SHOULD we have ways of finding which of Target’s customers were pregnant. I already get freaked out when Facebook shows me an ad for something I Googled once; I could only imagine what it would be like for the day after you announce you are pregnant (and bought a ton of lotion apparently) to be bombarded by advertisements about your pregnancy.

    With this system of identifying patterns, I would imagine you could find any demographic you want. Maybe you have a product that only applies to older people, maybe GreyPower insurance. To get a leg up on your competition you need to market to them before they turn 65, otherwise you’ll just be another insurance agency. You look at all the data you gather from, I don’t know, outside of a post office, and you find out that the closer people get to 65, the more lotion they buy. First, you have to determine that they are not in fact a pregnant woman, but after that, you can start targeting them with your advertisements. This might have not been the best example, but I can definitely see the benefits.

  21. Mark Hoshowsky

    1- In my opinion there are ethical dilemmas in using big data in consumer services, but it depends on what they are using it for. If they are using it in a mutually beneficial way such as notifying me of potential price savings, then I don’t see the problem with using big data in consumer services. However, I don’t believe this is often the case. I believe the use of big data is an invasion of privacy when its use is misleading and only beneficial for the company.
    2- Another commercial application I see for organizations in using big data is being able to target specific people, or a group of people. For example a mutual fund company may use big data to target high-income people with a habit/tendency of investing their money conservatively for retirement.
    3- I believe there are several skills required in using big data properly. Two basic fundamental skills required are good reading and interpretation skills. With such a large quantity of information, readers will have to be able to read and interpret what they read in a timely manner. Another requirement would be IT skills; you must at the very least be able to operate a computer competently. And last but not least you need statistics skills. Just reading the stats isn’t enough; you have to be able to interoperate the stats in a way that is useful to you and your company.

  22. Lindsey Hughson

    For some people, the use of big data to market to consumers would be considered an invasion of privacy and therefore unethical. However, there would be some consumers that would welcome a more personally catered shopping experience. It really depends on what side you fall as to whether or not you view the use of big data as unethical. Yet, the fact that there are individuals who are upset by the violation of privacy is proof that ethics are involved.

    The practical uses of big data are endless. Organizations can know just about anything about you and everyone else. They can know what products to produce/sell and how to sell them to you. This reduces unnecessary costs and improves sales. It is an invaluable tool to all those who possess it.

    In order to properly use big data, you would need to know who, what, when, where, and why. Simply, you need to have an idea of what you want out of the data and be able to properly analyze the results. This would require a certain level of IT skills. Furthermore, you would need to have the necessary skills to be able to implement your findings. There is no point in knowing x, y, and z about a customer if you have no way of using that information.


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