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Monday, August 13, 2007


During my last ten years as a junk mail list broker and database consultant, I urged all my clients to engage in data mining—or predictive modeling, as some refer to it—to locate their best customers. The more you target the new prospects, the less junk mail there is. Currently, amounts to an average of around 98 percent that goes in the trash every day. For the old entrepreneurs in the business who thought they knew everything, the answer was “we’ve always done it our way so why should we change?” Or they just didn’t understand the technology, and were afraid to try something new. You probably wonder why I—the reformed privacy activist—would have ever recommended a procedure that could spy on American households with a precision to forecast your daily habits. Well, I didn’t. There are two ways to achieve success in predictive modeling: the first zeroes in on individual households, utilizing all their personal data to pry into the lives of every individual residing there, including young children. I call that the invasive method; the second approach uses small groups of households developed by the postal system (carrier routes numbering around 500, block groups 300) to predict an aggregation that can easily be interpreted to represent a homogeneous group that includes very similar individuals. But in the latter process we have taken the consumer’s distinctive private information out of the mix, thus, protecting their privacy. I did a post on this back in June of 2006 titled, “It's Monday Morning. Do You Know Where Your Name Is?” It describes the mechanics of the procedure, and makes the case of why consumers should have control over their sensitive data. One of the biggest intrusions in junk mail data mining and predictive modeling in recent years is the use of your credit scores to determine how much you pay for auto and homeowner insurance. Most of the insurance companies are doing this now, so check your credit report regularly for your score. My opinion of this practice is that it borders on being illegal, at the least unethical. The junk mail industry is holding its annual convention in Chicago in October of 2007, and there will be several workshops that cover the modeling event. However, there won’t be any coverage of why the consumer should control their name and personal information, and be compensated when it is sold. Why don’t you ask the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA) why?

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