Selling your loyalty

I don’t know the criteria Reuters would use to determine what’s newsworthy, but while I was reading this January 2008 story it seemed to me it should be national front page news:

How Supermarket Purchases Violate Your Privacy and Increase the Cost of Insurance

In May 2007, the Harvard Business Review published an extensive ‘analysis of analytics’ in the retail sector and how our shopping habits have become a new source of profits. [The Dark Side of Customer Analytics, sub required]

Supermarket and chainstore management have stumbled into new profit centers in the unregulated ‘agriculture of population’ – data mining of purchase history. For example, ten years’ worth of customer data from southern Michigan supermarkets revealed that customers purchasing unhealthy products had more medical claims. Analysts teamed up with sales to create a new health plan for customers with healthy diets, increasing the premiums or refusing coverage for customers with sloppy diets. The insurance firm is establishing your premium based on what you’ve been eating.

Health, life and auto insurance companies are buying retail data and recording purchases linked to your name. Trisha Torrey at Every Patient’s Advocate asks, “How will it affect you?”

“Well — suppose you purchase wine from the supermarket, then drink it at home that night. The next day you drive to work and someone broadsides your car. Later, in court, the defense brings up that fact that YOU purchased alcohol the day before the accident, so perhaps it was your fault?

“Or maybe you want to purchase life insurance. The insurance company pulls up your records, finds out you have an affinity for doughnuts (even though you really bought them to take to work every Friday, how do they know you weren’t the one who ate all of them?), you’ve got a problem with acid reflux, plus the fact that you have a large dog (because you buy so much dog food so often) AND they notice that you never buy condoms (will they make a leap to STDs too?) — bottom line — they’d be glad to sell you life insurance, but the price will be higher than it might have been if they weren’t concerned by those unhealthy purchases you make….”