I recently read an article that talked about how certain stores were so good at using data collection to anticipate consumers’ needs, that one big box conglomerate had recently began sending baby-related product updates to people who had purchased pregnancy tests eight months earlier. I’m not sure how to feel about all of that. On the one hand, there is obviously the initial creep factor, but on the other, I kind of like that I can lazily log on to my favorite online haunts and have something recommended to me that is statistically going to be relevant far more often than any human being could possibly recommend after just meeting me.
After all, the little dude inside the Amazon website must know me quite well after our relatively long history together. They would know how my size has subtly increased (maybe not so subtly in some areas) since high school, the evolution in my reading tastes, that I must have got a Keurig for Christmas last year, and even what computer I’m typing this post on. Not only that, but “they” also know what I looked at before I purchased any item and could probably guess at how I narrowed down my choices.
Yes, the times they are a changing. One unexpected spin-off benefit of big data collection might be the strong signals we can now use to take human emotion out of the equation when it comes to realizing we might have some spending problems. Humans as a group are bad at admitting we have any sort of problems, and this seems especially prevalent when it comes to money. Every set of new debt stats that comes out seems to back me up on that. Instead of relying on our internal sensors to tell us when we might be in too deep, here are five ways the world will let you know:
1) Your Inbox is Overflowing with Offers for Credit Consolidation Loans.
Yup, you had a weak moment and thought that signing up for that free offer would be the first step on your path to getting out of debt. Oh, and you signed up for a few products online, but quit halfway through the process? Don’t worry, it just means the email address that has become one of the most important parts of your identity (after all, how many more people know your email than your phone number?) is now being sold and traded indiscriminately without your permission.
Even if only a very small percentage of people ever open those credit-related emails, it costs companies nothing to send them, and the potential profit of getting you to shift all of your borrowing to them is huge. Have fun sorting through all that spam.
Related: Dealing with Long-Overdue Student Debt
2) The Ride Side of Your Facebook Page is Constantly Full of “0% Balance Transfer Credit Card” Ads.
Man, I must have missed the part of “The Social Network” where Zuckerberg suddenly develops the ability to peer into my soul – and my bank account. How does he know?! Don’t worry, no one else can see that Facebook knows everything about you, except for the thousands of employees that work for the NSA, a bunch of 20-year old interns at Facebook, the guy who gets on the public computer after you forgot to log off, etc.
3) Amazon Keeps Recommending “How to Get Out of Debt for Dummies”.
If Amazon says that you need it, you probably need it. It’s magic and I don’t want to know how it works. The irony of companies targeting their sales at people that might be addicted to spending too much money is pretty incredible.
4) Snail Mail Marketing Becomes Relentless.
The debt game is a lucrative line of work. Imagine what the Mob could have done with big data? Instead of a showing up with a couple of guys that want to break your kneecaps, today’s main credit institutions employ methods that will crush your spirit. That child-like happiness of anticipating the mail you’re going to receive is replaced by a state of depression as you realize that with because of the amount of trees being cut down in order to harass you through the postal system every day, your carbon footprint rivals that of Chevron.
Related: What To Do About Credit Card Debt
5) For Some Reason Every Website Seems to Know You’re In Debt.
Blame Google for this one. Their ad boxes that can be placed on virtually any website track where you’ve been on the internet, and consequently what sort of ads you might be most likely to click on. When they throw all that info together and blend it all up within their top-secret algorithms you get a result that takes into account where you’ve been, what you’ve clicked, what you’ve purchased, and the probably reason why you’re on the current website. It’s not figurative language to say that Google knows us better than we know ourselves.
I hesitate to ask, but has this hit a little too close to home for anyone?