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Is AI to blame for your impulse snack buying?

By:  |  Category: Blog, Security Monday, November 9th, 2020  |  No Comments
woman wearing mask in supermarket

Ever feel like the grocery store just read your mind? How do they know exactly what items you just scratched on an old receipt in your car before you headed in to shop?

Obviously, our loyalty card tracks our purchases and any online shopping we do, but is it possible our shopping habits are actually being manipulated and predicted?

AI and the power of prediction

The answer is a scary yes. If it seems eerie that you just talked about needing toilet paper and now your favorite brand is on sale and advertising across the side of your screen it’s simply because more and more retailers are using AI (artificial intelligence) – software systems that can learn for themselves – to calculate our buying preferences and stimulate our shopping habits towards particular brands.

Daniel Burke, of a retail consultant from Blick Rothenberg, calls this “the holy grail… to build up a profile of customers and suggest a product before they realize it is what they wanted”.

If it’s a Friday night and an image of sushi pops up along with your favorite wine and chocolate, without even realizing it you are being subconsciously programmed to desire those items. Don’t be surprised if you stop at the store and buy them on the way home.

According to Will Broome, the founder of Ubamarket, a UK firm that makes a shopping app that allows people to pay for items via their phones, make lists, and scan products for ingredients and allergens. “Our AI system tracks people’s behavior patterns rather than their purchases, and the more you shop the more the AI knows about what kinds of products you like,” he says.

“The AI module is designed not only to do the obvious stuff, but it learns as it goes along and becomes anticipatory. It can start to build a picture of how likely you are to try a different brand, or to buy chocolate on a Saturday.”

The app also provides “hyper-personalized offers”, like cheaper wine on a Friday night.

If we’re going to buy it anyway most of us appreciate the savings, but we also have to recognize the true cost of this savings-our loss of personal data and information.

Is AI manipulation ethical?

Jeni Tennison, who leads the UK’s Open Data Institute, an organization opposed to the misuse of data, is suspect regarding the enormous amounts of personal data that is being collected.

“People are happy to be recommended products, but start to feel more uncomfortable when they are being nudged, or manipulated, into particular buys based on a caricature of who they are rather than the full complexity of their personality,” she says.

She is also concerned about the ethical implications of using AI. Are certain demographics offered more healthy food discounts than others?

“What we really need to understand is what impact data collection and profiling has on different sectors of society. Is it profiling people based on race, social economic status, sexuality?”

While getting a good deal on food purchases is certainly a benefit of AI it remains to be seen if it’s worth the implications of subliminal manipulation.

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Source: BBC

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