They're judging you, and in some cases, assigning and using secret customer lifetime value scores (CLV scores) to assign different levels of customer service, based on your past interactions with other companies.
A good or bad secret consumer score can mean the difference between things like:
- Whether retail stores will accept your returns without question,
- How long you have to wait on hold to talk with customer support at big companies, and
- Whether companies offer you special deals and attractive terms, compared to what they offer other customers.
Until recently, it was impossible for consumers to know what data big companies were accumulating on them--never mind, to learn how it's all used. Finally, however, consumers have some recourse.
Writing in the New York Times, technology reporter Kashmir Hill explained how she got the 400-page report that one of the technology companies, called Sift, had compiled on her.
I talked with Hill separately this week for my site, Understandably, about how she got her information. (She also shared the story of how a single tweet she posted last spring led to her getting hired at the Times in the first place.)
Hill said she was surprised to see just how much data there was, including things like "all the messages I'd ever sent to hosts on Airbnb; years of Yelp delivery orders; [and] a log of every time I'd opened the Coinbase app on my iPhone."
She also included the contact information five of the data companies,Sift, Zeta Global, Retail Equation, Riskified, and Kustomer provide, to allow customers to request their information.
In some cases you'll have to upload a photo of your driver's license or otherwise prove your identity:
- Sift: Send an email request to "email@example.com."
- Zeta Global "lets you request your data via an online form."
- Retail Equation "will send you a report if you email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Riskified, "which develops fraud scores, will tell you what data it has gathered ... if you contact email@example.com."
- Kustomer "tells people to email firstname.lastname@example.org."
It's worth noting that for most people, if the companies share your data, they're doing so voluntarily at this point -- especially if you're in the United States.
Hill explained she was partially inspired to request her information because she realized that under a 2018 European Union data privacy regulation, and under a law that goes into effect next year in California, people who live in those jurisdictions might have a right to their data.
Even though she lives in New York, which has no such law, she thought it couldn't hurt to ask. Sift, for example, has apparently been complying according to the California standards no matter where requesters live -- and despite the fact that the California Consumer Privacy Act doesn't officially take effect until next year.
Ostensibly, the scores exist at least partially to help prevent fraud. Your Sift score should be between 1 and 100, according to separate reporting from The Wall Street Journal.
Until Hill's article, anyway, it seems almost nobody was bothering to ask for their scores.
"When I originally reached out to [Sift]," she told me, "they said they hadn't had much of a response to the data request process that they set up this summer. But, the day of the story ... they'd gotten 8,000 data requests."