Big Data Meets Divorce: How Companies Take Advantage Of Life Changes

What do big data and divorce have to do with each other? More than you might think. Companies these days are taking advantage of big consumer life changes.

July 28, 2019
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Big data is everywhere. Each time you swipe a grocery store card, make a purchase online or buy from a big-box store, your shopping habits are being stored somewhere. What many consumers don’t realize is that companies are using this information to take advantage of their major life changes, including divorce.

While divorce rates are down compared to 20 years ago, nearly 50% of all marriages will still end in a divorce in the U.S. And as with many other major life changes, divorce will impact your consumption patterns – something retailers hope to use in their favor.

You need to understand how big data plays a role in the family law industry. There are a number of ways that it is going to change the way lawyers handle cases, as well as how people engage in prenuptial agreements and other decisions.

DataFlaq wrote a great article on this last year. They said that one of the biggest ways big data enters the equation is by helping predict divorce rates. They relied heavily on research from major dating sites like eHarmony. By using data from these sites, researchers were able to come up with predictive analytics algorithms showing that the divorce rate for eHarmony users was only 3.8%, which was roughly half that of other dating sites. This shows that various metrics can help predict the probability of a divorce.

Big data also changes the way that consumers behave after a divorce.

How Divorce Changes Consumption

Consumption patterns change leading up to and after a divorce. According to one study, sudden purchases of linens and new furniture are tell-tale signs that the individual has recently divorced. Why? Because when married couples split, one ex-spouse is usually forced to find (and furnish) a new home and buy new linens.

That study also suggests that a spike in alcohol purchases is an indicator that a divorce is about to occur.

Divorce can change consumption patterns in many ways, but whether or not to exploit those changes is an ethical or moral dilemma.

Big Data and Privacy Concerns

Targeted advertising isn’t exactly a new concept, and big data has helped fuel its growth. But many would argue that exploiting the consumption pattern changes associated with divorce is an ethical problem. Divorce is, after all, a sensitive, private and painful subject.

Data shows that alcohol purchases increase in the months leading up to a divorce. Is it right for companies to target these potential divorcees with alcohol advertisements? Taking advantage of their susceptibility to alcohol abuse would seem unconscionable, but here we are. Regulators can’t control which types of data retailers collect, nor can they control how they use that data to target their ad campaigns.

While the idea of using big data for this purpose is still in its infancy, the concept is quickly evolving and catching steam. The only bright spot here is that companies guard their data very carefully so it doesn’t fall into the hands of their competitors.

Can Big Data Affect Divorce Proceedings?

Yes. Ex-spouses can technically subpoena retailers for access to information about their former spouse’s purchases. But on a practical and realistic level, this probably wouldn’t happen in a typical case.

With that said, your consumption patterns could potentially become a relevant part of your divorce proceedings and affect your alimony, custody, child support and division of marital assets. For example, if your past purchases show that you’re regularly spending hundreds of dollars on new clothes, the court may question your need for alimony.

Big Data is Changing the Divorce Industry in Countless Ways

Whether we like it or not, big data will impact our divorces, and that will ultimately impact the way companies advertise to us. Whether companies exploit these major life changes is more of a moral question. But in a world, that’s no-holds-barred, advertisers will take advantage of these life events and the consumption changes that come with them.