Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities

Overview

One week after the birth of his second daughter, author Erik Larson stepped out of his front door to find a sample package of Luvs diapers, courtesy of Procter & Gamble. How does a company know the most intimate details of family life? In The Naked Consumer, Larson turns the tables on the snoops and spies: Who are these people who annually record the due dates of 900,000 women in a "Young Family Index," rent each of our names 152 times a year, and make telemarketing pitches to 18,000,000 of us every day? And ...
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Overview

One week after the birth of his second daughter, author Erik Larson stepped out of his front door to find a sample package of Luvs diapers, courtesy of Procter & Gamble. How does a company know the most intimate details of family life? In The Naked Consumer, Larson turns the tables on the snoops and spies: Who are these people who annually record the due dates of 900,000 women in a "Young Family Index," rent each of our names 152 times a year, and make telemarketing pitches to 18,000,000 of us every day? And who are the people who have transformed coupons for our favorite items into tools of espionage? Why do we Americans, who claim to revere privacy so much, allow ourselves to be filmed, taped, and analyzed by private-sector corporations seeking no loftier achievement than to sell us the same old toothpaste? Just as the advertising industry focused on motivation research in the 1950s, today corporate America relies on mass surveillance to sell its products. As consumer researchers systematically violate our privacy, erode our civil rights, and reinforce class stereotypes, they produce a business culture that shies away from risk and innovation and pays more attention to manipulating our needs and values. Erik Larson's penetrating study chronicles this wildly obsessive and frighteningly intrusive pursuit of the American buyer: how companies use spies, hidden cameras, even sonar and EEG machines to understand what makes shoppers tick - and how, in the process, they've accelerated the blanding of America.

Some companies gather and sell personal information to assist businesses in their marketing campaigns. It this American business at its finest, or simply a horrible invasion of our privacy? This shocking book will make readers think twice before writing their next check or going to the grocery store.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Consumer espionage, practiced on virtually every American, is one of the nation's most powerful industries, contends former Wall Street Journal journalist Larson in this alarming and compelling expose. According to him, Nielsen nightly ratings alone determine a $10 billion share of the total of $238.7 billion spent in 1990 by U.S. companies on all forms of promotion. Instead of concentrating on offering better goods and services, he charges, companies develop invasive marketing and motivation research to manipulate our needs, values and shopping habits.'' Using data from the Census Bureau, postal and telephone services, banks, hospitals, legal deeds, and political and direct mail lists of all kinds, along with human and electronic spies, marketing experts create psychographics of individuals and groups, which reveal intimate, personal details about ethnicity, past and present income, credit, health, family status and ways of life. This information then serves as the indispensable basis for insidious commercial appeals that exploit consumers' fears, vanity and greed. To avoid critical erosion of our civil liberties, Larson contends, we must control information technology through legislation. Oct.
Library Journal
Larson, a business journalist, takes a somewhat paranoid look at how market researchers and giant databanks invade our privacy and compile vast amounts of information that could be used against individuals or groups. However, in spite of being studied like bugs, consumers still manage to confound the researchers. While Larson acknowledges that, if marketing campaigns were perfectly aimed, people would receive ads for products that they wanted, and that they might even welcome this attention, the effort to find these customers is viewed as sinister, because of the chance of the wrong people accessing the information. David Duke's candidacy is cited as an example of the danger. Larson also explores and deplores political pollsters' effects on elections. This title might interest both market researchers and the public because of its detailed accounts of ongoing research. It would have appeal in public libraries with business or consumer collections.-- Sue McKimm, Cuyahoga Cty. P.L., Cleveland
Mary Carroll
The United States, journalist Larson argues, is "the most heavily probed, surveyed, and categorized society since the dawn of human history"; he seeks to understand how commercial mass surveillance "has changed us, both as individuals and as a culture." "The Naked Consumer" opens with a brief history of market research and the U.S. Census Bureau's role in enhancing researchers' tools. Then it profiles list brokers, direct-mail marketers, bar codes and checkout scanners, in-store and garbage surveillance, and political polls. Invasion of privacy and "commoditization--the conversion of important life events into trivial commercial moments"--aren't the only problems. Larson finds the secrecy that shrouds the collection and movement of personal data to be even more disturbing. There is an enormous potential for misuse of information especially the "recombinant data" produced by merging multiple databases. In a final chapter, Larson proposes "New Laws for a New Age": an Omnibus Privacy Act, and a constitutional amendment "acknowledg[ing] . . . that privacy is indeed an inalienable right." An interesting, enlightening analysis of a timely and significant subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805017557
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/29/2000
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 275

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 18, 2011

    Rather outdated

    Since this book was published in 1994 technology for tracking customers has advanced by leaps and bounds, and as a result, this book is pretty much out of date.

    I bought the book because I liked The Devil in the White City (recommended) and Isaac's Storm (so-so) also by Larson.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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