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Passport to Adventure

Data mining at Briarwood

by John Hilton

From the January, 2020 issue

There was something puzzling about the Chevrolet Trax displayed in Briarwood's east corridor in November. Not the vehicle itself--the mall has been renting spots to car dealers for years--but the sign that read "Enter to Win! $20,000 or a new vehicle."

Why would anyone pay to give away a car--even GM's cheapest SUV?

Strategically placed tear-off pads announced "Free Drawing" and "WIN!" But then came the questions: blanks for name, address, phone, email, and age, then check boxes for marital and employment status, household income, and, of all things, ownership of recreational vehicles.

"To be eligible, entry form must be filled out completely," the fine print warned. And: "You must be a U.S. Citizen. You must be 21 years of age to qualify for the $1,000 cash drawing ... To be eligible for the Grand Prize: a 2019 Car, Truck, or Cash (Tax, Title, Tag not included) you must be 30 years of age or older, currently employed with a combined household income of at least $50,000 per year or retired."

Finally, nine lines down, came the answer to the mystery: "You are invited to attend a courteous tour of our facilities, lasting approximately 90 minutes, at one of our locations. If married or cohabitating, couples must be present at check in."

According to the websites listed, the closest facility to attend that "courteous presentation" is a campground in Davison, east of Flint. But at least a note at the end promised, "This is NOT a Timeshare or Land Sales Promotion."

Even that small comfort was gone in December. The Chevy had been replaced by a Polaris four-wheeler, and this time the pads promoted a "Passport to Adventure $55,500 Sweepstakes." After many lines of minuscule fine print came the warning: "This advertising material is being used for the purpose of soliciting the sale of time-share property or interests in time-share property." Anyone who signed the form consented to "receive phone calls, including prerecorded messages and text messages, from Promoters at the phone numbers / wireless numbers / addresses provided above regarding their offers, products, and services, including through an automated telephone dialing system."

The global anxiety about Google tracking people online and Alexa listening in at home evidently hadn't reached the mall: an overflowing entry box promised the promoters a bumper crop of personal data.     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2020.]


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