Magazine article The Futurist

Selling Your Privacy

Magazine article The Futurist

Selling Your Privacy

Article excerpt

Your telephone rings, interrupting dinner. "We're conducting a survey," burbles a telemarketer. "Would you be willing to answer a few questions?"

Ten years ago many consumers would have dutifully complied with such a request. In 1997, fewer of us have the time - or patience to accommodate data collectors invading our privacy. That makes marketing surveys unreliable, so corporations are trying new ways to collect data.

One way is to buy it directly from the consumer. Corporate America already pays to learn about consumer behavior. Through its Friends & Family program, MCI Communications Corporation rewards its customers with discounts on long-distance calls when they reveal whom they call frequently. Car rental companies routinely offer hassle-free pickup or a wider choice of vehicles to customers who reveal their Social Security numbers, credit-card accounts, e-mail addresses, and driver's license and insurance information.

Giant Food, which operates supermarkets in such states as Maryland and Virginia, offers users of its credit card a 3% discount on groceries they purchase at Giant stores. This gives the store ultra-precise information on what customer Jane Doe buys when she shops at Giant.

These examples show that many consumers will readily sell private information about themselves if the price is right. What's more, consumers are beginning to realize that their personal information is valuable and, in the future, they may get serious about selling, according to John Hagel III, a principal in McKinsey & Company in California, and Jeffrey F. …

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