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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Twice as much data as the Internet

Wal-Mart is constantly collecting data in its never-ending battle to squeeze suppliers, stiff workers, and destroy competition:
By its own count, Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, made by NCR, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.
They track who buys what when. Shopping at Wal-Mart is like being Jim Carrey in the Truman Show--the whole experience is arranged not to serve you, but to maximize the benefits to the corporation. I thought this part was interesting:
Hurricane Frances was on its way, barreling across the Caribbean, threatening a direct hit on Florida's Atlantic coast. Residents made for higher ground, but far away, in Bentonville, Ark., executives at Wal-Mart Stores decided that the situation offered a great opportunity for one of their newest data-driven weapons, something that the company calls predictive technology.

A week ahead of the storm's landfall, Linda M. Dillman, Wal-Mart's chief information officer, pressed her staff to come up with forecasts based on what had happened when Hurricane Charley struck several weeks earlier. Backed by the trillions of bytes' worth of shopper history that is stored in Wal-Mart's computer network, she felt that the company could "start predicting what's going to happen, instead of waiting for it to happen," as she put it.

The experts mined the data and found that the stores would indeed need certain products - and not just the usual flashlights. "We didn't know in the past that strawberry Pop-Tarts increase in sales, like seven times their normal sales rate, ahead of a hurricane," Ms. Dillman said in a recent interview. "And the pre-hurricane top-selling item was beer."

Thanks to those insights, trucks filled with toaster pastries and six-packs were soon speeding down Interstate 95 toward Wal-Marts in the path of Frances. Most of the products that were stocked for the storm sold quickly, the company said.
So the world's largest corporation, something which by law should never have been allowed to get this big, is bringing junk food and bad beer to Florida ahead of the hurricane. Meanwhile, Florida's attorney general has teams of goons running around looking to arrest any entrepreneurs looking to sell generators, chain saws, or plastic sheeting. With the indignant blessings of both major political parties and the corporate media, insults and criminal charges are thrown at these "gougers." The AG isn't protecting hurricane victims with these actions--he's protecting Wal-Mart (and Home Depot and Lowes and so on).

Of course, Wal-Mart probably has enough dirt on Florida's AG in their two-Internets-worth of data to drive him from office in the time it takes to hang a chad. These un-elected greedheads from Arkansas have immense amounts of power, and have already used it to destroy hundreds of downtowns, tens of thousands (probably more) of American jobs, labor laws, and who knows what else (well, they probably know). Probably no city government or even state government has anywhere near as much power as Wal-Mart.

Thanks to the NY Times for at least occasionally writing about the Beast of Bentonville. Somehow, some way we've got to turn the tide nationwide--convince people that shopping at Wal-Mart or Sam's Club is one of the most destructive things they can ever do. Our "government" has not protected us from this total perversion of the "free market." We'll have to do it ourselves.

Then again, if you hate this planet, hate freedom, hate the idea of the future, hate your children and grandchildren--by all means hop in the SUV and drive to Wal-Mart to buy some bottled water and Pop-Tarts and five pounds of hamburger and a case of Coors. Osama only dreams of doing that much destruction.