Privacy Archive

TechMom Tuesday: Targeted Baby on Board?

Spoiler alert: No. Although Target seems to think my purchasing habits indicate otherwise.

IMG_0686I was typing away in my cube at work when I got a text from Jon: “Why does Target think you’re pregnant?”

(Clinton interjection:  Ah the joys of parenting… poop features in this text twice.  I don’t miss those days)

I figured they’d sent some circular of coupons that included some sort of discount for diapers. Nope. It was a complete registry packet – “a helpful little guidebook as you start planning for baby.”

According to Target statistician Andrew Pole, from a 2012 New York Times article, “new parents are a retailer’s holy grail.” So it makes sense that establishments try to reach potential clientele as early as possible.

Baby PlannerThe flyer was addressed to Patricia, so I know the data was collected via my purchasing habits gleaned from activities using my full name. We may think the digital tracking system has completed its full transition to a Big Brother watchdog state, but sometimes the cookies crumble.

As noted in the article, “We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, ‘Here’s everything you bought last week and a coupon for it… And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

(Umm…seriously? Read that last paragraph again and tell me you don’t have a WTF moment.)

At first glance, this doesn’t seem out of the ordinary at all. Buy groceries at Safeway and get a slew of coupons. Amazon lists personalized recommendations. Convenience and complacency have lulled the majority of people to trade away personal information. (When was the last time you actually read a Terms & Conditions popup?) Apparently I’m not the only one caught in Target’s web.



“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

Target’s publicly published privacy policy states the following information is routinely collected for analysis:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Email
  • Phone number (home and cell)
  • Drivers license
  • Credit/debit card
  • Birthday
  • Purchase/return/exchange history
  • Registry events

We collect data that’s publicly available. For example, information you submit in a public forum (e.g. a blog, chat room, or social network) can be read, collected, or used by us and others, and could be used to personalize your experience. You are responsible for the information you choose to submit in these instances.

We also obtain information provided by a third party. For instance, we obtain information from companies that can enhance our existing guest information to improve the accuracy and add to the information we have about our guests (for example, adding address information).

This improves our ability to contact you and increases the relevance of our marketing by providing better product recommendations or special offers that may interest you.

No wonder the biggest retail breach in U.S. history, from Target’s point-of-sale, was such a boondoggle for the company and boon to the hackers.

The Times article continues its examination of data collection and statistics with the finding that, “As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score.”

Some of the items noted in the story:

  • Magnesium: Often used as a supplement for digestive issues as it functions as a laxative – maybe something like Miralax for a 4-year-old’s poop issues.
  • Zinc: Lozenges comprising this mineral are the go-to treatment for remedying the common cold. And as preschool is synonymous with germ factory, multiple 4-year-olds share a lot of viral infections.
  • Scent-free soap: Scrubbing off all those germs can be done without spending the rest of the day smelling like an over-ripe mango. Also, hives.
  • Extra-big bags of cotton balls: It’s always handy to have extras around. You never know when you’ll accidentally drop a handful into the sink because you accidentally knocked over the jar to prevent a TechTot from brushing the dogs teeth with your toothbrush.
  • Hand sanitizer: I did recently purchase a full case of Purell off of Amazon. The TechTots are boys; I have yet to recover from my addiction to sanitizer borne in the NICU. (Also my cousin just graduated from high school, and I thought some Purell would be a great off-to-college gift.)
  • Washcloths: See above notation about boyish nature of TechTots. Man, can those kids get dirty. It’s not uncommon to pick them up from preschool and think, “Well, I can’t be certain these are my children under such layers of grime, but I’ll just scrub them down and return tomorrow if necessary.”
  • Cocoa-butter lotion: I have dry skin, ok? It’s the California weather – 89 degrees outside, 8 degrees in the air-conditioned office.
  • Purse large enough to double as a diaper bag: It’s called a mom-purse for a reason. Sanitizer, snacks, change of underwear, random toys, wallet, reading glasses, seeing glasses, sunglasses, iPad, iPhone, keys, wadded-up tissues (most likely unused), Chapstick, gum, headphones, sunscreen, safety pins…
  • Bright blue rug: I’m assuming the Target statisticians see this as nursery décor. It could also be updating the baby room to a big kid room. Or a dog could have thrown up on the existing carpet one too many times.

To be honest I can’t remember what I last bought at Target, so I’m not sure what items tipped me over the “pregnancy predictor” scale. Yet, when I review some of the items noted above, I can’t help but think maybe Target is on to something – just four years late.

Of course, if they read my blog, they’d already know that.

How To control which apps have access to your Contacts in iOS

As iOS has matured the integration between your personal information and applications that want access to that personal information has also matured.  Apple has done a good job of making sure you know when an app requests access to your calendar, contacts, Twitter and Facebook accounts but also a good idea to just check up on things now and again to make sure the apps you don’t want to have access to your personal information doesn’t have it.  In this How To I’m going to show you how to see which apps have access to your Contacts and how you can disable that access should you want to do so quick and easy.

First, go to Settings on your iPhone or iPad and scroll down to find the Privacy section and tap it.  This will bring you into all of the privacy settings on your device.  Now tap on the Contact section and it will bring you to the list of applications

Apps with Access to Contacts

Apps with Access to Contacts

that have access to your Contacts.  Hopefully, if you have been careful, you should not see any surprises in this list.  All of the apps here you would have had to approve to give access to your Contacts.  But, if you gave access by accident or want to revoke the access, here is where you could disable access.

Each app that has access has an On/Off slider.  Just slide it to Off for the apps you want to revoke access to your Contacts.  When you are done just tap the Home button and all of your changes take place with immediate effect.

Now if you tap on the Privacy button at the top of the page to go back to the Privacy settings on your iPhone, you will see other apps such as Calendars, Reminders, Photos, Twitter and Facebook.  If you remember back in August of last year I posted a How To on controlling which apps have access to your Twitter account.  This is the same place, just a different app.

One of the many things I appreciate about iOS is how simple Apple does make it in giving you control over your information.  For a company that is often accused of not having their customer’s best interests in mind, this clearly flies in the face of that notion.

Was this How To helpful?  Let me know!  Leave a comment below or Tweet me on Twitter.  Remember you can check out all of the AlliOSNews How To’s on this page.



Foursquare cautiously and clearly changes privacy policy

In light of the recent uproar over the privacy and policy changes at Instagram, apps that provide services are, understandably, treading cautiously with any terms, conditions and privacy changes going forward.  Instagram suffered an almost instant backlash publicly but it seems debatable how much real damage was done to the company with their recent snafu.

Yesterday Foursquare sent out an email to all of its members highlighting changes that are coming in 2013 to the social networking app and service.  The email lays out in plain English the changes that are coming and where you can read all of the detailed legal bits should you want to do so.

The first change to come 28 January is that your full name will be displayed, not just your first name and last initial.  The email explains that, “Currently, Foursquare sometimes shows your full name and sometimes shows your first name and last initial (“John Smith” vs. “John S.”). For instance, if you search for a friend in Foursquare, we show their full name in the results, but when you click through to their profile page you don’t see their last name.”

The second change is for businesses on Foursquare.  This change means that businesses on Foursquare will be able to see who checked in to their location over the course of a day, not just the past 3 hours (the current limit).  As an individual user you can of course opt out so a business won’t see your check-in.

The full policy can be found on the Foursquare website but it is clear that the afterglow of the Instagram debacle has made companies think carefully and clearly about policy changes.  Having read over the policy I don’t see anything alarming but your mileage may vary.

How To Enable Location Services Per App on Your iPhone and iPad

One of the big advantages of the iPhone and iPad is Location Services.  Built into iOS 4 & 5, Location Services allow your iDevice to know where you are at any particular time.  It uses both GPS as well as cellular tower and crowd-sourced WiFi access points to determine your location.  This is particularly helpful for things such as weather apps, social networking apps and so forth so you can get local information no matter where you are and to get it without requiring your intervention.  There are times however where you may want to disable this functionality for privacy or security concerns.  Fortunately Apple has provided a quick and easy way to do this in the settings on your device.

To start, Location Services are found in the Settings of your iPhone or iPad under, you guessed it, Location Services.  If youLocation Services per app settings tap the Location Services menu you will see the master on/off slider for the service as well as the list of apps that take advantage of it that are on your device.  Each app has a slider that allows you to turn on or off the service for that particular app.  While disabling the master Location Service will disable all of the apps from accessing your location information, I have found that disabling it per-app is a bit more useful.  For example, when I travel I often will disable to Weather location services so when I can see the weather back at home when I access the Notification Center without having to go into the Weather app itself.

By some of your apps you will also notice a compass needle icon by the on/off slider for the app.  These needles give you a visual indicator of the type of location information is being used as well as when it has last accessed Location Services.  For example, if you see a purple icon then that app is currently using the service to determine your location.  If you see a grey icon then that app has accessed the service in the last 24 hours.  If you scroll down to the very bottom of the Location Services screen below the apps you will see all of the definitions for each icon.

Location Services is a power feature of iOS and 99% of the time is a huge help rather than a problem.  There are times however where being able to turn it off can be handy or give you an added sense of security as you travel about.