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The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities

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After receiving a sudden surge of junk mail directed at new parents—even though his wife at the time was merely pregnant— Erik Larson, the National Bestselling author, set out to explore the lengths companies go to spy on individual consumers. Posing as a CEO of a fictitious direct-mail corporation, Larson infiltrated companies that gather and sell personal information to a After receiving a sudden surge of junk mail directed at new parents—even though his wife at the time was merely pregnant— Erik Larson, the National Bestselling author, set out to explore the lengths companies go to spy on individual consumers. Posing as a CEO of a fictitious direct-mail corporation, Larson infiltrated companies that gather and sell personal information to assist businesses in their marketing campaigns. He discovered the systems used to gather personal data, the staggering amount of personal information companies can gather, and the government’s role in helping companies learn about you.


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After receiving a sudden surge of junk mail directed at new parents—even though his wife at the time was merely pregnant— Erik Larson, the National Bestselling author, set out to explore the lengths companies go to spy on individual consumers. Posing as a CEO of a fictitious direct-mail corporation, Larson infiltrated companies that gather and sell personal information to a After receiving a sudden surge of junk mail directed at new parents—even though his wife at the time was merely pregnant— Erik Larson, the National Bestselling author, set out to explore the lengths companies go to spy on individual consumers. Posing as a CEO of a fictitious direct-mail corporation, Larson infiltrated companies that gather and sell personal information to assist businesses in their marketing campaigns. He discovered the systems used to gather personal data, the staggering amount of personal information companies can gather, and the government’s role in helping companies learn about you.

30 review for The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    What does it mean that this book seems anachronistically cute now? "The Naked Consumer" was written in 1992; Nielsen ratings, consumer focus groups, census data and market research companies were the main methods of how Corporate America invaded our privacy. Since its' publication, website cookies alone have added more personal information about ourselves than could possibly be acquired through the previous methods mentioned. Most retail stores have club cards, social networking websites like Fac What does it mean that this book seems anachronistically cute now? "The Naked Consumer" was written in 1992; Nielsen ratings, consumer focus groups, census data and market research companies were the main methods of how Corporate America invaded our privacy. Since its' publication, website cookies alone have added more personal information about ourselves than could possibly be acquired through the previous methods mentioned. Most retail stores have club cards, social networking websites like Facebook have personalized ads, free sites like imeem.com and goodreads.com offer personalized choices based on prior viewing history...and the list goes on and on. Having already read Naomi Klein's No Logo No Space, No Choice, No Jobs and other social marketing books, I was already familiar with most of the information in Larson's book, but it was engaging to read his take on how (as of 1992) Corporate America has invaded individuals' privacy. It's a little disconcerting to realize how much more invasive Corporate America has become as of 2009. Personally, I'd love to read a revised edition of "The Naked Consumer", with Larson's take on how much has changed since his interviews with Jonathan Robbin, Paco Underhall, and others.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Bingham

    I read this book many years ago. It is about privacy and the collection of information. Since it was published in 1992, before the internet took off, it is hopelessly out of date, but parts of it still ring true. The best part is the author's 'Four Laws of Data Dynamics' governing personal data collected by marketers and advertisers.1. Data must seek and merge with complementary data.2. Data will always be used for purposes other than that for which it was originally intended.3. Data collected a I read this book many years ago. It is about privacy and the collection of information. Since it was published in 1992, before the internet took off, it is hopelessly out of date, but parts of it still ring true. The best part is the author's 'Four Laws of Data Dynamics' governing personal data collected by marketers and advertisers.1. Data must seek and merge with complementary data.2. Data will always be used for purposes other than that for which it was originally intended.3. Data collected about individuals will be used to cause harm to the person about whom the information was collected.4. Confidential information is only confidential until someone decides it is not.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Schuyler Wallace

    Having just read “Dead Wake,” Erik Larson’s latest blockbuster, and having consumed each of his previous novels, I ran across his very first book, a nonfiction account of how companies spy on the consumer. I was curious as to how Larson would report on my least favorite social activity. He handled it with remarkable aplomb. Published in 1992, when Larson was a free-lancer living in Baltimore, it’s a book he claims to love, although apparently no one else did. It is not the booming hit his later Having just read “Dead Wake,” Erik Larson’s latest blockbuster, and having consumed each of his previous novels, I ran across his very first book, a nonfiction account of how companies spy on the consumer. I was curious as to how Larson would report on my least favorite social activity. He handled it with remarkable aplomb. Published in 1992, when Larson was a free-lancer living in Baltimore, it’s a book he claims to love, although apparently no one else did. It is not the booming hit his later novels have become, but I liked it and believe that the consumer, even more put upon now by sleazy marketing than when Larson wrote the book, would find it mesmerizing and should read it. Larson, in his clear and precise reporting, tells us how tax dollars have enabled marketers to find us, zero in on our secret wishes, and persuade us to buy things we don’t need. We are all on lists that help companies locate us, determine what we are patsies for, and how to make us empty our pocketbooks. The US Census, as have many other public agencies, although confidentiality is promised, has given immense amounts of information to companies that exist to sort through, quantify, and assemble data into lists that identify every person in our country by name, address, ethnicity, economic wealth, living condition, household makeup, religion, and any other characteristic that’s usable in determining vulnerability to marketing schemes...and to make a great deal of money doing so. This book is complex and mindboggling. To me it is also infuriating. I’m not some naïve dolt who thinks I exist in a vacuum, safe and secure in my cocoon of privacy. But Larson has opened my eyes to an irritating conspiracy that, while seemingly harmless, is a pervasive intrusion into privacy. Areas of my personal activity, the value of my home, credit limits on my charge cards, bank account balances, access to my passwords, PIN numbers and, perhaps my preference in underwear are all fair game to these scavengers, information I insist is none of their business. It never entered my mind that a little innocuous viewing window, the scanner at the checkout stand, could also pass on so much information about me. Combined with the frequent shopper card information I willingly passed out in exchange for gasoline savings, money bonuses, and premiums, it itemizes the commodities I purchase, screens, scores, analyzes the results, and digs deep into my existence. Huge corporations lust for this information. The information here is dated because of when it was written. I suspect that public infuriation at privacy invasion, manifest in the 1990s, is even greater now. Larson is urging us to recognize that privacy is indeed an unalienable right and that those charged with our protection must do so with dogged resolve.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laina

    Ever wonder how you get so much junk mail that seems to be tailored to you specifically? Well, Erik Larson attempts to explain it in this book that might possibly scare you more than Carrot Top. It's funny because he wrote this book almost 2 decades ago, and the amount of information companies know about you has only grown, exponentially. I shudder to think what his book might look like were it written today! I found it an interesting read, but it was dense and a bit tough to get through at time Ever wonder how you get so much junk mail that seems to be tailored to you specifically? Well, Erik Larson attempts to explain it in this book that might possibly scare you more than Carrot Top. It's funny because he wrote this book almost 2 decades ago, and the amount of information companies know about you has only grown, exponentially. I shudder to think what his book might look like were it written today! I found it an interesting read, but it was dense and a bit tough to get through at times as it's not a novel. I wouldn't recommend to somebody unless they're really interested in this sort of thing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I love Erik Larsen and how he writes. I found this 1994 book of his about how personal data is bought and sold, an area I know well from my work. Larsen predicts many of the future habits of the internet, but he also shows us how much has changed. 20 years on this book got me thinking about how our concepts of privacy have changed in the age of the internet.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Charley Ilg

    Not my favorite Larson, but it was also more of a deep dive into the inner workings of market researchers and what exactly they use at their disposal. Since I work in the market research field, some of it was actually kind of interesting to see what data is considered influential and how they retrieve this data. The part of the book that got a little tired on me was the screaming issue of privacy. Like people shouldn't be allowed to know where I work, where I live, or what cereal I buy. I underst Not my favorite Larson, but it was also more of a deep dive into the inner workings of market researchers and what exactly they use at their disposal. Since I work in the market research field, some of it was actually kind of interesting to see what data is considered influential and how they retrieve this data. The part of the book that got a little tired on me was the screaming issue of privacy. Like people shouldn't be allowed to know where I work, where I live, or what cereal I buy. I understand that something more sensitive like my overall income or my credit score could be a bit over the top, but most of the things that I had learned that researchers are after are things that anyone could see with casual observation (and they often do) or simply willingness to comply with the research company. What they do with that data is up to them. Given the fact that this book was written about 25 years ago, it does tend to be a bit dated. But I think that overall trend of tracking spending habits, whereabouts, and overall impression of products is still used in every sense of the imagination today. Some people may not like it or feel some sort of violation because the grocery store camera saw them with two types of coffee in their hands before they settled on one of them. Me, I'm not sure why that sort of thing will matter... but maybe someday they'll be an email that gets sent that changes my mind.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dan Downing

    Another follow up in my quest to make up for my mistake in thinking "Isaac's Storm" was Erik Larson's first book. This one has held up well in that Goodreads' general rating is 4 Stars and so is my personal one. The tricks and devil inspired techniques used by the data miners that Larson describes in large measure are forerunners of the more despicable and annoying ones used by today's marketers, both criminal and maybe not so. Certainly the issue of what 'privacy' is and how much we deserve is a Another follow up in my quest to make up for my mistake in thinking "Isaac's Storm" was Erik Larson's first book. This one has held up well in that Goodreads' general rating is 4 Stars and so is my personal one. The tricks and devil inspired techniques used by the data miners that Larson describes in large measure are forerunners of the more despicable and annoying ones used by today's marketers, both criminal and maybe not so. Certainly the issue of what 'privacy' is and how much we deserve is alive now as it was when Larson was writing the present tome. I note that while computers are discussed and the term 'electronic mail' was used, no mention of the World Wide Web or the Internet intrudes into these pages. Nor is hacking a problem. If Larson's remedies had been followed back in the early 90s we'd have a better world. So too if the 'Terminator' solution had somehow occurred and his interview subjects were magically erased. The former dream would have involved intelligent Congressional action and we know what a non-started that is: on a par with time travel. Included is a section titled "Sources, Notes, Minutiae" which has some delightful nuggets. The main text has a share of humor to it, too. Recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Owen

    From todays perspective, Larson’s complaints of intrusion by marketers and general loss of privacy go well beyond quaint. In 1992, when he wrote the book, the internet did not exist in any widespread way. He complains about direct mail companies knowing that his wife was going to give birth shortly, which is, admittedly creepy, but nothing compared to what was coming. He never could have imagined that not only would our privacy be invaded by corporations at every minute, but that we would gladly From todays perspective, Larson’s complaints of intrusion by marketers and general loss of privacy go well beyond quaint. In 1992, when he wrote the book, the internet did not exist in any widespread way. He complains about direct mail companies knowing that his wife was going to give birth shortly, which is, admittedly creepy, but nothing compared to what was coming. He never could have imagined that not only would our privacy be invaded by corporations at every minute, but that we would gladly give it away- and in many cases pay for the privilege of having our privacy invaded, from watches that listen to Alexas and Google Homes that claim they don’t. His calls for regulation may have worked in the direct-mail space, but we have yet to have a reckoning in the digital world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I know the information in this book is dated ~ written almost 30 years ago. I wanted to see the difference between then and now. "Someday soon even our wristwatches may be pressed into services monitors of our consuming affairs." ...and here we are. Now we have watches that tell us much more than the time. We have Alexa, Siri, Amazon, Google, and more. I think there are people who know more about me than I do. He gives the history of such issues that date back to the early 20thC. It covers every I know the information in this book is dated ~ written almost 30 years ago. I wanted to see the difference between then and now. "Someday soon even our wristwatches may be pressed into services monitors of our consuming affairs." ...and here we are. Now we have watches that tell us much more than the time. We have Alexa, Siri, Amazon, Google, and more. I think there are people who know more about me than I do. He gives the history of such issues that date back to the early 20thC. It covers everything from shopping, medical issues, phone calls we don't want, and polls and politics ~ and much more.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Baxter

    Great starter book on the personal privacy issue - especially on the problems with the current U.S. census programs. However, the book was written almost 30 years ago now and Larson could not have foreseen the advent of social media, the computing power/ camera ability of cell phones, or the meteoric rise of the hacking communities.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Keven Wang

    A privacy warning from 1992

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elena Woontner

    So relevant today, such a must-read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Written in 1992, the subtitle says it all... "How Our Private Lives Became Public Commodities." This book is some 20 years old, and yet the insights inside give one great pause about the proliferation of his/her personal information that's on so many computers and in the data banks of so many companies now... knowing it was written that long ago makes it all the scarier! After reading other books by Erik Larson I decided to go back and catch this older one that I missed. Larson researched compan Written in 1992, the subtitle says it all... "How Our Private Lives Became Public Commodities." This book is some 20 years old, and yet the insights inside give one great pause about the proliferation of his/her personal information that's on so many computers and in the data banks of so many companies now... knowing it was written that long ago makes it all the scarier! After reading other books by Erik Larson I decided to go back and catch this older one that I missed. Larson researched companies that gather and sell personal information about people. Free enterprise? Invasion of privacy? Think twice before you Tweet, Blog, buy anything on line, write a check or go to the grocery store....

  14. 5 out of 5

    Charles Allan

    Erik Larson's The Naked Consumer captures a moment where marketers learned to combine seemingly innocuous public information into powerful, almost intrusive, insight into our personal lives. Larson commits on the involuntary nature of much of this information gathering and wonders what we can do about it. Whether this information marketing is improving your life by tailoring products to you or is manipulation and intrusive is probably dependent on your worldview. But this is an interesting book tha Erik Larson's The Naked Consumer captures a moment where marketers learned to combine seemingly innocuous public information into powerful, almost intrusive, insight into our personal lives. Larson commits on the involuntary nature of much of this information gathering and wonders what we can do about it. Whether this information marketing is improving your life by tailoring products to you or is manipulation and intrusive is probably dependent on your worldview. But this is an interesting book that chronicles what information how our personal information sources are used and when the bar for privacy is moved so we don't even notice.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alkek Library

    Erik Larson's The Naked Consumer captures a moment where marketers learned to combine seemingly innocuous public information into powerful, almost intrusive, insight into our personal lives. Larson commits on the involuntary nature of much of this information gathering and wonders what we can do about it. Whether this information marketing is improving your life by tailoring products to you or is manipulation and intrusive is probably dependent on your worldview. But this is an interesting book tha Erik Larson's The Naked Consumer captures a moment where marketers learned to combine seemingly innocuous public information into powerful, almost intrusive, insight into our personal lives. Larson commits on the involuntary nature of much of this information gathering and wonders what we can do about it. Whether this information marketing is improving your life by tailoring products to you or is manipulation and intrusive is probably dependent on your worldview. But this is an interesting book that chronicles what information how our personal information sources are used and when the bar for privacy is moved so we don't even notice.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bull Durham

    Read with high hopes after reading his "The Devil in the White City." Looking for an in depth treatise on privacy. Disappointing in that it has all the problems of books written by journalists - repetitive, simple-minded, anecdotal story-telling in the first person sprinkled with set-up interviews of knowledgeable people. Very unsatisfying. Written in 1992, read in 2006, maybe it was informative when it was written and didn't age well. Read with high hopes after reading his "The Devil in the White City." Looking for an in depth treatise on privacy. Disappointing in that it has all the problems of books written by journalists - repetitive, simple-minded, anecdotal story-telling in the first person sprinkled with set-up interviews of knowledgeable people. Very unsatisfying. Written in 1992, read in 2006, maybe it was informative when it was written and didn't age well.

  17. 5 out of 5

    pianogal

    I love Erik Larson. He's one of my favorite writers. I would have given this 4 stars if I hadn't read it when it was 20 yrs old, but I was only in 7th grade when this was published and I doubt 7th-grader me would have been interested in this. And now I will continue with my quest to read all of Larson's books. I love Erik Larson. He's one of my favorite writers. I would have given this 4 stars if I hadn't read it when it was 20 yrs old, but I was only in 7th grade when this was published and I doubt 7th-grader me would have been interested in this. And now I will continue with my quest to read all of Larson's books.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    I'm not sure why I didn't give this book five stars. Maybe because it hasn't aged as well as it could have. Like the other Larson books I've read it was well written and engaging. I definitely recommend it for anyone concerned about media influence in our lives, consumption/overconsumption and sustainability, and privacy. I'm not sure why I didn't give this book five stars. Maybe because it hasn't aged as well as it could have. Like the other Larson books I've read it was well written and engaging. I definitely recommend it for anyone concerned about media influence in our lives, consumption/overconsumption and sustainability, and privacy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Meleya

    Someone told me I shouldn't read this one because it might make me more paranoid than I am about my information being out there in the world. It was super interesting though and instead of making me more paranoid it gave me the missing pieces of "how do they do that?" Most info is probably outdated but it will give you the idea. Someone told me I shouldn't read this one because it might make me more paranoid than I am about my information being out there in the world. It was super interesting though and instead of making me more paranoid it gave me the missing pieces of "how do they do that?" Most info is probably outdated but it will give you the idea.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    It was fascinating to see how much information has been/is gathered about us--some rather insidiously. And this book was published in 1992! What would Larson say about MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jon Ruiz

    A thorough look at privacy issues, especially as related to marketing tactics. A good read for anyone interested in privacy. My only regret is that it was written in '94 and doesn't include a discussion of social media and more recent technologies. A thorough look at privacy issues, especially as related to marketing tactics. A good read for anyone interested in privacy. My only regret is that it was written in '94 and doesn't include a discussion of social media and more recent technologies.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul Doyle

    A somewhat dated but disturbing look at marketing. The amound of knowledge aquired about consumers at the time of the writing, was disturbing. I'm not sure how to describe the amount of information aquired now. An interesting and thought provoking read. A somewhat dated but disturbing look at marketing. The amound of knowledge aquired about consumers at the time of the writing, was disturbing. I'm not sure how to describe the amount of information aquired now. An interesting and thought provoking read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Blaire

    Probably useful in its era but woefully outdated now.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Merilyn

    Interesting book about marketing strategies. However, this was written about 15 years ago so it is a bit outdated. Dry reading.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gwenn Zeoli

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jack Bornstein

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alan Ralston

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Phương Phạm

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