What Stays in Vegas

Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 6:30PM

Book cover A book premier and discussion at the Hertie School of Governance

In What Stays in Vegas, Adam Tanner exposes the greatest threat to privacy today. It’s not the NSA, but good-old American companies. Internet giants, leading retailers, and other firms gather data behind the scenes with little oversight from anyone.

No company knows the value of data better than Caesers Entertainment. In Las Vegas, thousands of enthusiastic clients pour through their casinos’ ever-open doors. The secret to the company’s success is an unrivaled asset: they know their clients intimately.

The company tracks most gamblers’ activities: they know exactly what games we like to play, what foods we enjoy for breakfast, when we prefer to visit, who our favorite hostess might be, and exactly how to keep us coming back for more.

Caesars’ dogged data-gathering methods are so successful they are now the world’s largest casino operator, and inspired companies of all kinds to ramp up data mining to boost their own targeted marketing efforts. Some companies do this themselves, some rely on data brokers. Others clearly enter a moral gray zone that should make American consumers deeply uncomfortable.

We live in an age where our personal information is harvested and aggregated whether we like it or not. And it is growing ever more difficult for those businesses that choose not to engage in more intrusive data gathering to compete with those that do. Tanner’s timely warning resounds: Yes, there are many benefits to the free flow of all this data… there is also a dark, unregulated and destructive side as well.

Adam Tanner is a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University and previously a Harvard Nieman fellow. Tanner has worked for the Reuters News Agency as Balkans bureau chief, based in Belgrade, Serbia, as well as San Francisco bureau chief, and postings in Berlin, Moscow and Washington, DC. Writing about the business of personal data, he also contributes to Forbes and other magazines. He earned his B.A. at Columbia College at Columbia University, and his M.P.A. at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

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