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Phoenix Forward

5 ways companies snoop on you to get business

How companies spy on you

Once upon a time, people lived in small towns and shopped on Main Street. You were friends with your local grocer, and your local druggist was probably your neighbor. Then impersonal big-box stores and corporations came along and changed all that. Or did they?

“Retail companies have gotten bigger, but thanks to new technology, they know you better now than your own neighbors do,” says Cliff Lavin, a marketing executive and instructor for the University of Phoenix MBA program. Here, five ways today’s companies snoop on consumers to get their business:

1. Internet tracking cookies

Any time you’re surfing the Internet, you’re being tracked, according to Skip Boyd, a longtime marketing consultant and area chair for the MBA and IT programs.

“There is nothing private about the Internet or browsing,” he says. “Companies like Google® all the way down to small local stores use your Internet-browsing data to target ads at you.” The only way to prevent this is not to use the Internet at all, so consumers should think carefully about what they share online, according to Boyd.

2. Social media

Social media sites such as Facebook® are free, but participation comes at a price — your privacy. “Whatever you share on Facebook becomes the property of Facebook [forever], even if you delete it,” says Eugene Kaufman, a business-development professional and area chair at the University of Phoenix Las Vegas Campus.

Social networks earn money by selling usage data to advertisers, who then target marketing at you based on what you post and view — even who your friends are.

3. Purchasing patterns

Companies use predictive analytics to determine what you’ll buy in the future based on your past activity, according to Boyd. “Online retailers like Amazon.com® and eBay® are good at this,” he says.

“They can predict with tremendous accuracy what you’re likely to buy based on a few past transactions or what’ you’ve browsed, and target you accordingly.”

4. Customer-loyalty programs

Brick-and-mortar retailers don’t always have the ability to track what you buy online, but they can — and do — track your in-store purchases through customer-loyalty programs.

“Any time you sign up for a customer-loyalty program or member discount card at a store, you’re giving that store permission to know everything about what you buy from them,” Lavin says. Retailers then use that data to send out targeted coupon mailers, for instance, or to notify you of product recalls.

5. TV shows

Advertisers can track your TV-watching habits as easily as your Internet-browsing history, according to Boyd. “If you have cable TV through a cable box, that box is recording all your channel surfing,” he says.

“Advertisers analyze what shows you like to watch and target commercials at you based on that. You and your next-door neighbor could both be watching the same program, but with different commercials.”


Google is a registered trademark of Google Inc.
Facebook is a registered trademark of Facebook Inc.
Amazon.com is a trademark of Amazon Technologies Inc.
eBay is a registered trademark of eBay Inc.

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