The price we pay for the new strategies in database marketing that closely track desirable customers, offering them benefits in return for personal information.
This fascinating and disturbing study considers the societal implications of the new database marketing, with which corporations delve deeply into customers' personal histories and interests using digital surveillance technology. Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, looks back at the evolution of marketing through the 20th century, when the emergence of national brands, mass media and retail institutions like department stores led to the democratization of commerce. Today, he observes, an opposing trend is gathering steam: the drive toward "mass customization." With increasingly intrusive information technologies, retailers and manufacturers are segmenting customers, tailoring advertising and product offers to specific individuals and routinely using customers' personal data in ways few people understand. Furthermore, companies are seeking ways to actively discourage less profitable customers, and in some cases, are engaging in price discrimination, secretly offering a few favored customers better deals than others deemed less worthy. If these technology-driven trends continue, Turow (Breaking Up America) worries, the end result may be a world of individually customized entertainment and news where no common culture exists and there's an atmosphere of consumer anxiety and suspicion of being cheated in an impossibly complex electronic bazaar.