Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe are two giant holding companies that own dozens of advertising agencies and marketing firms. The two companies have decided to merge into one titanic holding company. Part of this company’s holdings will be a giant database about consumer habits.
The database contains e-scores, or consumer valuation. This is information that retailers, credit card companies, search engines, and other organizations collect about you every time you visit a website or make a transaction.
Big Business Knows All About Your LifestyleThe problem is that such e-scores are increasingly being used to analyze your lifestyle and make decisions about you. A health insurance company might check the e-score to see if you eat at McDonald’s or buy liquor or cigarettes before writing you a policy. A bank might check to see if you gamble or go to casinos before writing you a loan. The bank might also check to see if you visit online casinos or have even purchased airline tickets to Las Vegas in the past.
In other words, these institutions know a lot about your personal lives. They track everything you do online and every purchase you make with your debit or credit or card.
A Tool for DiscriminationThat means they know what books you buy from Amazon, what videos you stream from Netflix, and what websites you visit. It wouldn’t be that hard to discern your political or religious beliefs from such metadata. The data could be used to discriminate against people that hold certain beliefs.
For example, bureaucrats could screen applicants to determine which ones would be more likely to question authority or criticize a government policy. They might not hire somebody who regularly visits The Guardian’s website because it often contains stories that contradict the official line coming out of Washington. Let alone an alternative news website like Storyleak.
Particularly bothersome is the fact that data is now sold in automated trading platforms for everybody to buy. The combined Omnicom and Publicis will be able to make a fortune selling this data.
Controls need to be placed on the kind of data companies can collect and how they sell it. Such private data mining is as big a threat to our privacy as the data mining done by agencies like the NSA.