If you find a coupon online and then redeem it in a store, you probably don't realize that the store can then find out your IP address, a couple steps leading up to how you found the coupon, and even details from your Facebook profile.
The New York Times has run an expose on online coupon redemption and it reveals a lot of information that even the savviest online deal-hunters don't realize.
A company called RevTrax is leading the market of online coupons. When you go to the Web site of a store like Filene's Basement and you find a link to an in-store coupon, that coupon may be generated from RevTrax.
RevTrax is continuously working to expand the level of information that's embedded into these coupons. They can provide info about how the user found the coupon, even the Google search they used to find it. It can encode data about when the coupon was printed, or how often that particular computer has printed off coupons for the store. Even though the coupon UPC may look identical for everyone who prints it out, the data in the code is completely unique.
A new trend beginning is to make online coupons accessible only through Facebook. That makes data mining even easier, because coupons could be tracked back to the exact user who downloaded it. Ultimately, retailers will be able to track individual customers and see their coupon redemption habits.
That means that they could know that you are more likely to redeem coupons on DVDs and I'm more likely to use a coupon for digital memory cards. That way, offers could be tailored for specific consumers. Coupons can even track the IP address, which makes anonymity when redeeming coupons almost impossible.
Privacy advocates are pressuring the Federal Trade Commission to add new regulations to this market. But for now, be careful the next time you print out that 15% off coupon from your favorite mall store, because you will most definitely be analyzed through someone's system.
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