Flashback: Remember when Target caused a stir by ID’ing moms-to-be?

Now, researchers are trolling your web searches to auto-detect diseases.

The Washington Post recently channeled a study done by Microsoft — published in the Journal of Oncology Practice …

The essence: Microsoft’s big data analysts ID’ed folks who were querying questions like “how to treat pancreatic cancer” — hypothesizing that they might have been diagnosed with the disease.

Then, the researchers backtracked thru the prior searches done by those folks and detected a pattern of precedent queries that revolved around symptoms, e.g. abdominal swelling.

Bottom line:  the researchers were able to use the inferred pattern of symptoms to early-predict a disease diagnosis for a statistically significant number people who queried symptoms.

That’s potentially big news in disease diagnosis, though doctors caution that for many diseases, the onset of patient-queried symptoms may be too late-stage for effective treatment.



The Microsoft query- disease analysis reminded me of how Target created some Big Data buzz for analyzing purchase patterns to ID moms-to-be. 


In a previous post, we excepted from a NY Times article How Companies Learn Your Secrets that

  1. Much of what people do is based on habits, not conscious reasoning.
  2. Consumers’ shopping habits and brand loyalties are often more habitual than thoughtful.
  3. But, there are certain “events” — e.g. new baby, new home, recent divorce — that seem to make consumers more open to switching stores and brands.
  4. Savvy marketers are learning to identify these critical events — before they happen — and try to get consumers to switch  their behavior.

Target is one of the retailers identifying customers who are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers” … and pouncing on them.

Who?  Moms-to-be.

How are they doing it?


According to the NY Times article, Target identified about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed them to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score.

For example, sometime in the first 20 weeks, pregnant women tend to load up on body lotions and supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc.

With that information in their computer systems, Target can identify likely pregnant women and, more important,  estimate their due dates, so that  Target can send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

It’s a bit unbelievable … and a lot creepy.

And, oh yeah, it works.

But, gotta wonder why Target let this cat out of the bag …   the privacy concerns are likely to offset the added sales to moms-to-be.

= = = = =

Click to view the conference presentation on Target’s program.


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