Shoppers must give consent for private data use

The New York Times reported Thursday that Target hired marketers to track changes in customers’ shopping behavior. The marketers were good enough to figure out if a customer was pregnant. This is financially helpful for companies looking to gear coupons toward specific targeted audiences, but it raises questions about our privacy.

Companies should not be using consumers’ lists of purchases to market certain products without consulting the customers first.

Online, this practice is even more prevalent. Most advertisements on Facebook are targeted to your favorite style of music or clothing stores. Whether a federal Internet privacy law is forthcoming anytime soon is unclear, but in the meantime, how much companies are tracking users without their permission should be curtailed.

Businesses may offer to collect as much data as they want when it comes to observing consumer behavior. The problem is transparency. People are more likely to skim over opt-out policies and click straight into a website. The option to opt out should be clearer and more prevalent on a website’s terms of use page.

Of course, people do have a fundamental choice — they could just no longer go to that website or make purchases at a certain store. But when more and more companies are profiting from selling customers’ information, such as Facebook or Google, there’s not much incentive to keep users’ privacy in mind.

As long as companies are not misrepresenting how they are using the collected information, they are not being deceitful. Keeping hidden what data is stored about a customer’s preferences is indicative of an Orwellian nature. We’d rather a company make a disclaimer as public as possible, such as Google’s changes to how it’s using users’ data, rather than forcing it on people with no warning.