Big data stuff-up: Family receives junk mail noting “Daughter Killed in Car Crash”

A big data debacle in the US has seen a family shocked to receive a junk mail letter with the words “Daughter Killed In Car Crash” below the recipient’s name, The Wall Street Journal reports.

This information was tragically accurate, as the family had lost their 17-year-old daughter just a year ago.

The letter, from retailer OfficeMax, was an advertising promotion, and the family did not know they were on the OfficeMax database, the paper reports.

A spokesperson for the company told the paper they were unaware how this error occurred or how they had this information on the family.

“We would like nothing more than to tell the world what happened… It was not our data and we don’t have access to the original information,” the spokesperson said.

The Wall Street Journal reports it understands the retailer rented the big data from giftware business Things Remembered, in order to tap into its clients.

The family who received the letter said they had previously received a gift of a digital photo frame from the gift store from friends, to display photos of their daughter.

Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising chief executive Jodie Sangster says this scenario is “really, really unusual”.

“It highlights that businesses need to have strong regulations in place around data management,” she says.

“They have to collect data for the right reasons, in the right way.”

Sangster says while this is not a common situation, businesses need to be careful.

“As more companies move towards data-driven marketing in order to personalise their relationships with customers, it increases the risks of these things happening, even though it is not intended,” she says.

“The more we use data, the more responsible practices we need to have in place to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Sangster says despite the best of intentions, “nothing is perfect” and the odd mistake will happen.

Having good quality control measures in place is vital, as well has having a contingency plan for what to do if things go wrong, she advises.

Sangster says with new data legislation coming into Australia in March, the key will be to know what information you can and can’t gather on your clients.

“You can only collect the data that is essential information for your business, you have no legal right to collect anything else,” she says.

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