“If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?” This question was allegedly posed to a statistician (Andrew Pole) who worked for Target® back in 2002, according to a New York Times article written by Charles Duhigg, entitled “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” What an eye-opener.

Pole has 2 masters’ degrees, one in economics and the other in statistics and has developed predictive models to determine whether a woman is pregnant.  Why is that important? Are they going to pay your medical bills? Or send you a bouquet of flowers at the time of birth? Give you a year’s free supply of disposable diapers? None of the above. They’re going to try to convince you to buy additional purchases through enticements and “behavioral psychology.”

Why is Target so interested in pregnant women? According to the article, new parents are a retailer’s “holy grail.” Right around a child’s birth, shopping patterns change. Birth records are public so by the time a baby is born, a retailer has lost its advantage, so the key is to reach consumers, particularly pregnant women earlier, preferably in the second trimester. Why the second trimester? Because that’s when pregnant women begin buying things for their babies. Target has established a system and an identifier called the Guest ID that allows them to track and record everything you buy and then keep a record of it. It can buy information regarding your ethnicity, neighborhood, marital status and educational status. Now, I understand why cashiers are always asking for my zip code.

Allegedly, when a woman buys more unscented lotion, vitamin supplements such as magnesium and calcium, there is a significant possibility that she might be pregnant. Purchases of lots of scent-free soap, an extra large bag of cotton balls, cocoa butter and large bags (future diaper bags) signals a close due date. There is even mention of “habit specialists” who are trained to figure out how people think. A  Duke University study estimates that 45 percent of our decisions are based on habit. As a result of spying, Target revenues grew from 44 billion to 67 billion dollars between 2002 and 2010.

How can one prevent this intrusion of privacy? By spending cash instead of using credit cards when shopping.  Pregnant moms, do you think that Target has crossed the line or are you okay with their policy. Please, weigh in.