by Walter Brasch
The government's knowledge of the lives of individuals is little more than the equivalent to a children's coloring book compared to the library that private companies have on everyone.
Doubt that? Just open your mail any day; chances are good you'll have more junk mail--the corporations prefer to call it "direct mail"--than anything else. Check your email; if you're not being spammed hourly, you are probably one of the few people in the U.S. who is living in an underground bomb shelter with no access to the outside world.
And don't complain. You caused this.
Americans routinely fill out myriad forms that ask all kinds of personal information. Buy an appliance--or just about anything--and some database company learns not just the name, address, and where and when the customer bought that item, but also family income, what pets the family has, and the family's hobbies. Some "warranty" cards ask more than five dozen questions, the data coded and stored on computers accessible by junk mail advertisers.
Although the data helps companies notify customers about product re-calls or new products, most Americans don't know they aren't required to fill out the cards to get warranty protection.
Answer your telephone and respond to someone who claims to be from a "marketing survey company," and dozens of offers will soon be yours to explore.
The marketing departments of the mass media use databases not only to identify potential subscribers, but also to identify the demographics of their own readers and viewers to potential advertisers.
The first thing scanned at registers in most supermarkets, department stores, discount stores, drug stores, and chain stores of all kinds is the bar-coded membership card that alerts a computer to record and analyze inventory, and track each purchase a customer makes. These cards lure customers to believe they are getting special deals in exchange for giving up their privacy. At its best, it may mean special coupons from manufacturers. At its worst, it means the store sells the data to a health insurance company that raises rates because it determines the customer bought too many bags of potato chips.
With the ubiquitous use of computers, every person who ever bought anything online, or even searched for anything online--product or information--can now be identified, their web addresses stored for use in target marketing campaigns.
Microtargeting, essentially vacuuming every piece of data about every person, is what allows corporations, marketing departments, and sales people to find specific groups of people to add to direct mail and telemarketing campaigns.
Certain groups won't sell their membership lists; others, including most U.S. colleges, are all too happy to get a few hundred dollars by supplying names and demographic details to the marketing companies.
The Republicans, using a program they labeled Voter Vault, mastered the use of the technology to give them the tools they needed to reach donors and score decisive "get out the vote" strategies in 2002 and 2004 elections. So sophisticated had been the program that they could individually pitch every household with a message crafted to that family.