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Big Data: Privacy Threat or Business Model?

Kim Lucio

The Big Data panel begins. | Photo by James Martin from

As I travel through the panels and sessions at SXSW, the hot topics seem to be in three places: gamification, privacy, and data. Data is being talked about in regards to privacy of consumers. At the CNET panel Sunday, data and privacy were discussed through a panel including Declan Mccullagh, Molly Wood, and Will DeVries.

With every move you make on the Internet and in stores, your data is being tracked. Every time you swipe a credit card, give and email address, or check in to a location, your data is being store for future reference. The more you use these items, the more information stores and websites are given to track your consumer behavior.

So, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The Privacy Threat: Target Announces a Pregnancy Before an Expectant Mother Can

A recent situation with Target regarding data was a hot topic of discussion. A teenage girl was recently shopping at Target. Every time you shop at Target, your purchase history is tracked with a guest ID number. That number is tied to your name, credit card, or email address. Since the girl was buying items that hinted at pregnancy, the store started sending her coupons in the mail for maternity clothing and cribs. Outraged, her father called Target to complain. After talking to the manager, he found it was due to the data that was tracked to his daughter's guest ID number. Much to his surprise, after talking with his daughter he found out she was indeed pregnant, and called the store to apologize. Due to her tracked data, Target was able to find out she was pregnant before she even informed family members.

Big Data panel audience. Photo by James Martin from

Even though situations like the Target incident might seem creepy, from a marketing perspective they can be beneficial to business. Knowing your history and interests leads to more targeted advertisements and information coming your way. There is a reason that your Facebook and Gmail ads seem similar in most cases to information you share and topics you talk about. The stores you shop at most often will send you coupons via email more frequently depending on the amount of time and money you spend there.

As more and more data is out there, the discussions will get more heated as to who owns data and what they can or cannot do with it. What do you think about websites and stores knowing about your history? Do you think it's creepy or beneficial to consumers?

Check out the full SXSW Panel Discussion here.