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    Washington Post: Mobile coupons help retailers track customers

    The Washington Post reports on the data-gathering done when customers use mobile or Web coupons:

    Although they might look similar to the ones in Sunday newspaper circulars, many of today’s digital versions use special bar codes that are packed with information about the life of the coupon: the dates and times it was obtained, viewed and, ultimately, redeemed; the store where it was used; perhaps even the search terms typed to find it.

    A growing number of retailers are marrying this data with information discovered online and off, such as guesses about your age, sex and income, your buying history, what Web sites you’ve visited, and your current location or geographic routine — creating profiles of customers that are more detailed than ever, according to marketing companies. […]

    The government is still trying to figure out to what extent mobile marketing and the practice of what’s known as “behavioral targeting” need to be regulated. Although companies have argued that none is needed, a number of consumer advocacy groups have called on the Federal Trade Commission to create guidelines that would require mobile marketers to reveal what personal information they collect and how they use it. […]

    Target’s terms and conditions for its mobile coupons service notes that it can collect “your cell phone number, your carrier’s name and the date, time and content of your messages.” A spokeswoman for Target clarified that it means the company “reads the content of messages sent to Target in order to fulfill guest requests.”

    The company, she noted, also has an extensive privacy policy that applies to desktop and mobile browsing and details how Target uses cookies to identify how a specific user is using its site, may merge that with information from “other sources” and share the information it collects with “carefully selected” third parties.

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