What do you suppose happens with the info on the forms you fill out to gain access to a web site? How about the record of purchases made with your grocery store loyalty card? Why would anyone want a record of your cable television viewing habits? These questions are at the core of Joseph Turow's book Niche Envy, about marketing discrimination in the digital Age. The answer is disturbing; the confidentiality of your information is only loosely protected, and merchants are eager for every tidbit they can gather about you.
Their purpose is not, in most people's eyes, particularly evil. These companies simply want to sell you more stuff by understanding what you want, when, and where they can most successfully make the offer. Unfortunately, this means that the more that details about you that are consolidated and made available to online retailers, mass mailers, media advertisers and even floor salespeople, the better they succeed. Turow, in tracing the growth of database marketing, shows how the groundwork has already been laid for a marketing world that customizes television ads, Internet pitches, even TV entertainments and news to your taste. And this economic profiling, he concludes, can lead to niche envy.
Niche envy stems from the ability of businesses to identify profitable customers and treat them differently. The 'good' customers may get individual treatment, better parking, concierge service, lower prices. Meanwhile, the 'bad', i.e. unprofitable customers (that pay off their credit cards every month, only buy during sales, return goods too frequently, for example) will be denied these perks, and may even be discouraged from shopping in that store.