Get to know Stacey, the savvy single

Stacey Vanek Smith thinking about shoes.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Earlier we heard from Stacey Vanek Smith about all the ways companies keep track of us. They've become experts at reading the fine print behind what we buy and using it to market stuff to us in the future. It's called "data mining." And it's more than a little freaky if you stop to think about it.

In part two of her report, Stacey shares some personal examples of how this mining works.


Stacey Vanek Smith: Data compilers have been gathering information on me: Where I live and what I buy since I left for college.

Peter Harvey is the CEO of data mining company, Intellidyn. He gives me the big picture.

Peter Harvey: So now, we've got Stacey at Apt C on this street, in LA. It has your date of birth as December 1, 1976.

December 26, but OK...

Harvey: You're a frequent Internet user, cellular customer and long-distance user. And it says you are an active credit card user.

Using that and my credit information, data miners slot me into one of 70 lifestyle categories, or clusters.

Harvey: It put you in cluster number 26.

Which is...

Harvey: Savvy singles. Savvy single households are well-educated and enjoy upper-middle income and live in multi-family dwelling units.

We're also workaholics, environmental activists, travelers and mountain climbers, and we spend a lot of our money on fixing up our homes. Companies have been using my savvy singlehood as a way to sell me things for years. That might explain why I get so many Pottery Barn catalogs and promotions for Las Vegas getaways. I'm not actually that into Vegas -- and that can be the problem with those broad categories.

But things are getting a lot more personal. Because every time I look something up on my phone, send an e-mail or use my credit card, I'm leaving a trail of digital bread crumbs.

Robert Grossman: I know a fair amount about you now.

That's Robert Grossman, head of the National Center for Data Mining at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He mined my information from Google and Facebook.

Grossman: I know your hometown, which is Boise, Idaho. I know where you work, you work pretty hard, but in the evening you would watch TV shows like "Glee," look at travel locations. You spent a lot of time looking at women's shoes and cosmetics...

I guess I like shoes and cosmetics. Grossman says marketers could use that information to send me ads for sandals and lip gloss after I got home from work and before I settle into "Glee."

Grossman: I could see that you're interested in doing a trip to Berkeley, San Francisco.

Actually, I was in Berkeley. And Grossman noticed some differences in my behavior when I was there.

Grossman: Los Angeles, you were interested in everything from museums to where to eat breakfast to where to get drinks. In Berkeley, you're interested in cakes, bars and wine restaurants.

So in LA, I'm interested in where to eat and where to get cocktails. And in Berkeley, I'm interested in where to eat and where to get wine. Can I just say, I don't drink that much? But, when I was in Berkeley, for work, I did look up wine bars. And Grossman says, the next time I'm there, I might get a text message from a wine bar near my hotel. So that's a little scary, and that's just Google.

Then we got to Facebook. Where marketers can find out information about the music and books I like, my real birthday, my relationship status, see pictures of what I did last weekend, get a heads up on what I'm planning to this weekend. And see who my friends are, which Grossman says is marketing gold.

Grossman: The likes of friends is one of the most predictive variables of your own likes.

So they know where I live, what I buy, my nutritional habits, what I watch and who my friends are. What are they going to do with all of it? Grossman says, they're going to try to sell me stuff. Stuff I'll probably want.

Grossman: I think this is just going to make targeting more relevant. From that viewpoint, I think this is very, very good. So I would offer you women's shoes, cosmetics, travel and TV shows.

Can I just say that I'm not that into shoes? Anyway, Grossman points out that every day I trade my data for things I want. I let Amazon store my credit card information, because it's convenient, I take online surveys to get discounts, and, for no reason at all, I tell my 300 Facebook friends that I saw "Twilight" and liked it. But I am not just the sum of my data parts...

Grossman: This is a very small portion of your life, it's just the part that can be monetized.

Because there is a lot more to me than shoe shopping and bar hopping. I did my senior thesis on Beckett!

In Los Angeles, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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