KDnuggets Home » Polls » It is wrong to use analytics to find pregnant women? (Mar 2012)

Was Target wrong in using analytics to identify pregnant women ?

Was Target wrong in using analytics to identify pregnant women from changes in their buying behavior ? [364 votes total]

Yes, Target was wrong - companies should not try to infer sensitive personal data such as pregnancy (61)  17%
No, Target had a right to use consumer shopping information, and was doing it effectively (270)  74%
Not sure (33)  9%

Regional breakdown shows that although US data miners were more permissive, a majority of European and Asian data miners still did not think that Target did anything wrong. In the following table, bar height is proportional to the number of voters.

Region%No%Not Sure %Yes
US/Canada  80%  6%  14%
Europe  59%  15%  26%
Other  61%  21%  18%

Even though majority of data miners, including me, did not think Target was wrong in using analytics, the reaction among general public was very different. The story created a feeling that somehow Target crossed the line, although it was probably difficult to pinpoint where the line was. Perhaps the best explanation I saw was given by Todd Dessig in Forbes. He suggested that

people are used to anonymity, and big data analytics creeps people out because it violates our assumption of anonymity - we feel spied upon by an uncaring corporation. So understanding without empathy leads to "creepiness".
If so, then we should prepare for a more creepy future.

Selected Comments:

  • Greg S, Target
    Target was not doing anything wrong in predicting who may or may not be pregnant. However, they did need to be more careful in how they used that insight. This type of prediction is what we are all after, in terms of predictability, however our business partners are not always the best at making use of the information provided.
    It is great to see that we are getting to the point of truly being able to produce something so accurate. We now have to be careful of the 'big brother' effect of using that information.
  • Italo, Target
    The results of the poll are amazing from across the Pond. Luckily in EU there are privacy laws which ban these kind of activities so that this discussion would not even occur. Beside all this, data is an asset but so is your company reputation: making data produce results while destroying your brand equity value is not a good business idea.
  • Naveen, Was Target wrong?
    Target is not wrong, but as this is sensitive, the data owner should maintain privacy. And based on these report one should not do target marketing.
  • Doug, Was Target wrong in using analytics
    I don't think you could argue what Target reportedly did was illegal in any way.
    But they're probably not enjoying the free publicity.
    So was it WISE from a business perspective? Probably not.
  • Guy, Target is a for profit company
    It would be stupid not to use their data to increase profit.
  • Deepak, would the survey results change, if it was posted on Digg Do you think the results change / flip if the same survey question is posted on DIGG or other site, instead of a KDNuggets, as mostly data mining/analytics professional visit this site and voting is hence biased.
  • Doc Muhlbaier, Target Analysis for Marketing
    The only reason for doing the analysis was for marketing. The NYT article was thin on how they did the analysis (probably some variation of clustering), but they were given the data by the individuals through their affinity cards. Those affinity cards provide us benefits (lower costs) at the cost of lesser privacy. There was no evidence that Target violated the agreement from the card.
  • Francois, Poll and Pregnancy
    Is the right to use consumer information outweighs the right to privacy?? I do not think so.
    The next step would be finding people with AIDS, High blood pressure and so on. These could part of your medical history and the question would be:
    Knowing that data analytics would give a company clues about your medical profile, should they use it considering that a medical file is private??
    Of course pregancy is not a medical condition but it is a highly private experience (at least for the beginning).
    I can see you guys coming saying: "It was meant to better serve the customerette" and "the current situation where the dad finds about his daughter pregnancy is an outlier"...
    In a society where everything has to be kanban, I guess that there should be no room for a women to think about her pregnancy and receiving ads right away for diapers.
    Also, comments on that topic are coming from hard working man using analytics. It would be nice to see the breakdown of gender in that poll. :)
    Statistics, predictive analytics can make a nice un-human argument.

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