Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I got together with the kids this weekend and gave them the exquisite pleasure of busting my chops.
"I see you've got an EZPass," my son remarked.
"Yes, with your grandmother living downstate now, I finally gave in," I said.
"So," he nodded, "you don't want 'them' to know what groceries you buy, but you don't mind if 'they' know where you go and when?"
Hmm. Okay. Yes, I've railed against Price Chopper's discount card that tracks your purchases. And yet here I was leaving an electronic record of each time and place I drive through an EZPass booth.
I muttered something about everyone having a set of limits or something and left him smirking, but I thought it over on the way home -- a four-hour drive that, as it happens, involved not one single EZPass booth.
To begin with, we do each have our own limits. I think I'd feel differently if Price Chopper had a "marketing sample club" that anyone could join, and which offered a three-percent discount across the board. But I object to the way they advertise prices on the assumption that, yes, of course you have one of their cards. When they say bananas are 23 cents a pound, of course that's for their buddies only, but everyone is one of their buddies, right? It's not really bait-and-switch, because they DO specify "with Advantage card."
I guess I object to the assumption that we're all willing to be tracked and that giving up your privacy is completely normal and banal.
Privacy should be the default. If I choose to give it up, fine. But I'm insulted by the notion that I ought to, and by the assumption that I will.
Especially since I give it up all the time, willingly. You don't have to pay me.
Which brings us to the second part of the answer, which is that EZPass isn't the same as the Price Chopper card. Yes, they could use it to track my movements, but they could subpoena my credit card or cell phone records and achieve the same thing. You'd have to live on a cash basis if you really wanted privacy.
All EZPass is, really, is a way to use a card without stopping. There's no discount -- just the chance to avoid fumbling for change and to avoid sitting in the line at the staffed booth. Basically, the same sort of "convenience" benefit you get whenever you use a debit or credit card.
All of which Sonny Boy knows. He just gets a kick out of giving the old man some grief.
But let's go back to Price Chopper a minute. What's wrong with them wanting to track how various demographic groups shop?
For one thing, by offering specific bargains, they're spoiling the sample, unless their goal is to find out how various demographic groups respond to a 10 cent discount on bananas. An across the board discount for those who agree to be part of the study would be more valuable for purposes of sampling -- and it might increase shopper loyalty because (A) we'd think we were saving money overall and (B) we'd feel we were part of a special group and were getting special treatment.
Would I accept the card under those circumstances? I'd be more likely to if all they wanted was my age, income, ZIP Code and marital status -- but not my name or specific address. But if they were also going to mail me notices of special offers, well, gosh ... we all have our price.
Wrote the guy who wants his own work on password-protected sites, but gets pissed and closes out of a site when he's asked to register.
(The illustration is from Hilary Price's brilliant strip, "Rhymes With Orange," and is dated Oct 11, 2000. If you can't read it, click on it and it opens in a separate window and will be a little bigger.)