cover image The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities

The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities

Erik Larson. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1755-7

Consumer espionage, practiced on virtually every American, is one of the nation's most powerful industries, contends former Wall Street Journal journalist Larson in this alarming and compelling expose. According to him, Nielsen nightly ratings alone determine a $10 billion share of the total of $238.7 billion spent in 1990 by U.S. companies on all forms of promotion. Instead of concentrating on offering better goods and services, he charges, companies develop invasive marketing and motivation research to manipulate our needs, values and shopping habits.'' Using data from the Census Bureau, postal and telephone services, banks, hospitals, legal deeds, and political and direct mail lists of all kinds, along with human and electronic spies, marketing experts create psychographics of individuals and groups, which reveal intimate, personal details about ethnicity, past and present income, credit, health, family status and ways of life. This information then serves as the indispensable basis for insidious commercial appeals that exploit consumers' fears, vanity and greed. To avoid critical erosion of our civil liberties, Larson contends, we must control information technology through legislation. (Oct.)