Thursday, November 25, 2004


In the past few weeks, I have been borrowing lots and lots of DVDs from this little rental store that's conveniently on the way home from the bus stop. The subjects of datamining and customer profiling have always fascinated me, and I realized one evening, on the way home after borrowing yet a few more DVDs, that a psychological profile could be compiled on me based on my borrowing records.

Discounting those who borrow for families and friends, individuals' records of titles borrowed do reveal quite a bit about the person. Let me recall a few titles I have been borrowing (discounting my sister's horror selections) recently:
The Alamo, Enigma, The Patriot, Saving Private Ryan, Daredevil, The Bourne Identity, Indiana Jones (all 3!), The Spy Game, X-Men 1 & 2, Casablanca, The Great Gatsby, Gosford Park, Quo Vadis, Brother Sun Sister Moon
(You could probably tell I love war, action and old movies!)

Retail sites such as are gold mine for customer profiling. I think thinks it knows me better than myself! It knows what books & DVD titles I have and what I thought about them. It makes recommendation based on my wish list, shopping history and items I already owned.

Back to the topic, how much information can make a customer happy? Is there a point where there can be too much information, and gets the customer uncomfortable? "Right to privacy" is overused and not well understood. For instance, why would it upset me to know someone knows I like action and war movies? It might upset me, if somebody associates liking action movies with support for war (or for George W Bush!), and spam my house with anti-war or anti-Bush flyers.

Mass consumer behavior is complex; the same folks who'd put up "Bush-Cheney '04" signs on their lawns (thereby announcing their conservative right-wing leaning or simply being fed up with the Dems) would cry foul if a website to which they subscribe begins profiling their surfing behavior and make suggestions!

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