The NY Times recently described an interesting policy by American Express. The credit card company had been lowering the credit limits of customers who had shopped at certain retail outlets. Using their proprietary dataset gathered over their customer base, American Express had identified certain retailers whose customers had a hard time paying their credit card bills. They concluded that all customers who shopped at these stores were a credit risk and correspondingly lowered their credit limits. The catch here is that American Express did not reveal their retailer black list. So customers had no way of knowing which stores to avoid. Walmart? Niemann-Marcus? Baskin-Robbins?

Once the story appeared into the press American Express recanted its policy. In fact, they went one step further and insisted this had never been their policy, despite thousands of letters to “curtailed” customers that explicitly detailed otherwise. Read the original NY Times report of the surprising use of American Express data mining.

In other news about creative uses of data mining…

Microsoft Live search is thinking about inserting social technology into its searching service. They found that a relatively new technique called “groupization” turned up more relevant results in an internal test-run. The idea is to use a person’s social network to influence the results that are returned to a user. A user searches using a set of keywords which are then correlated with the results the user’s social group found relevant. While Microsoft was keen on the idea, they were also worried that the implementation on a large scale might be nigh impossible. You can read a summary of the idea at the online website ars technica.

Personally, I have my doubts that this would really contribute to my personal search results. I’ve noticed that the advertisements on the social networking site Facebook are 180-degrees different from what I’m actually interested in. I get a bunch of ads for the acai berry diet, movies,  and how to get long eye-lashes. In case anyone from Facebook is reading this, I don’t want to detangle my eye-lashes in the morning! I think the low relevance of the ads on Facebook have to do with the fact that it’s a social networking site and therefore relatively “fluffy”. Perhaps Microsoft could create its own pre-defined community titles and a user could click their interests/hobbies when they create an account profile. Then based on these broad categories, Microsoft could perform the “groupization”. This might be a scalable approach to their strategy.