Getting them young - when school children are targeted for data mining

  • Humour Me
  • Tuesday, 24 Dec 2013

MY introduction to brand loyalty by manufacturers and marketers began in 1976, the year I started formal education. At school, we children were occasionally given free biscuits, toothpaste, magazines and milk, including condensed milk that came in small pyramid packaging which I don't see anymore today.

During some events, like the school's sports day, every student was also given a coupon which would entitle us to a cup of cold, sweet Milo. To me then, it was the most delicious drink on earth! Once in a while, the people who dispensed the drinks would let us have an extra cup.

Somehow, I still haven't figured out the perfect Milo recipe until today. No matter how I try, I never get my Milo to taste like the ones dispensed from the Milo van!

Milo was the drink that would make me healthy and strong, so I believed back then. Just like how the TV commercial went (Minum Milo anda jadi sihat dan kuat). My parents had a different opinion about the freebies we received at school. To them, we (schoolchildren) were used by companies as their target to get repeat customers and to build brand loyalty. I guess, because of their awareness, more often than not, my pleas to buy products which I had experienced at school were denied by my parents.

I wept sometimes because I didn't want to be left out. Some of my friends at school would only consume a certain brand of milk or snack.They too often told me of the benefits of consuming the products and encouraged me to do the same.

Back then, I was not sure whether my parents were against the whole idea of marketing and advertising or they did not have much disposable income to grant their kids what they desired. Everytime I brought home a free product, either my mum or my dad would be a spoilsport. I'd be reminded that nothing came for free. As consumers, we pay the price one way or another.

I used to get annoyed with their skepticism but looking back, I am glad that my parents taught me to be a mindful consumer.

The way companies push their products and access information from their potential customers has evolved over the years. Manufacturers and marketers have become more subtle and specific in pursuing their target. As today's consumers, it is crucial that we be more discerning in processing not only advertising but also when participating in free services.

Take the wonderful world of the Internet, for example. Whenever we acquire a free internet product like an email account, an apps or a game, our particulars are being collected, activities tracked, and data compiled. Necessary conclusions are then drawn and the data put to use in an attempt for companies to work with our habits. This practice is called data mining.

On the other hand, as consumers, we do have to pay for the free services we get online. We may not have to part with our cash but we pay for it by giving up our personal information freely. Frankly, I do not oppose the practice. I'm not going to go out there and start a crusade against it or companies which are employing data mining.

However, I am totally against the the practice being conducted on school children during school hours and within the school compound.

I strongly believe the time has come that the authorities - whether the school decision-makers or the Government, put a stop to the practice from taking place in schools or any public education centre. In fact, there should be a law to make the practice illegal within a school's compound.

Those in charge and involved in monitoring children's online learning activities in those places should also be made responsible for ensuring that data mining do not take place during formal learning.

What is unacceptable to me about data mining in public education centres and schools is that it intrudes into children's privacy. Data mining is carried out for web user profiling. For example, once online, an Internet company will collect the personal data of say, a seven-year-old child, track his activities and history as well as his likes and dislikes. The company then uses this information to target other kids of his age group to push their products to, as the information gathered would enable them to gauge what sells and what doesn't.

Unless proper privacy protection is put in place, what may start off with good intentions - to provide access to the Internet so children will be able to acquire valuable skills and information from the world wide web - will become just a company's marketing tool. This, too, will happen at the expense of our children's privacy, exploited for commercial gains.

As parents, I think we should also do our part by creating awareness among our children on the importance of protecting their own privacy.

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