The battle over corporate control of retail in India is getting not just serious but scary — it has been reported that the country’s largest listed retailer, the Kishore Biyani-led Future Group, has tied up with the CIA-backed data mining firm Palantir Technologies.
Palantir, whose software is used by the counter-terrorism operations of the United States Intelligence Community and the US defence department, will provide Future Group with analyses of data on the consumption and buying frequency patterns of shoppers.
“They will analyse customers’ data at an extremely micro level and such detailing will provide insights in customer trends and shopping habits,” Kishore Biyani, founder and CEO of Future Group, told the Economic Times.
“The technology tie-up is part of our data-to-business strategy called Tathastu, with an aim to get two crore members from stores across formats to spend Rs. 1 lakh each per annum.”
According to the ET report, a 10-member team from Palantir “is already stationed in India to help Future Group in data science and machine learning algorithms”.
This development has been announced soon after reports that the much talked-about deal between the American e-commerce behemoth Amazon and Future Group had fallen through. Amazon was in talks to pick up a 10 per cent stake for Rs. 2,000 crore in Future Retail, one of the retail companies under the conglomerate. In fact, it had even been reported that Amazon was pushing for a wider agreement that would afford the e-commerce giant the option of buying out Biyani to take over the company in future.
The Future Group has been on a spree to diversify and consolidate and expand — especially in the face of the retail war heating up, and competition from foreign giants such as Walmart, Amazon and Alibaba.
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The Future Group has multiple listed retail companies such as Future Retail Limited, Future Lifestyle Fashion Limited, and Future Consumer Limited.
It owns several supermarket store chains including Big Bazaar, HyperCity, Easyday, Nilgiris, Heritage Fresh, Sangam Direct, Big Apple, Foodhall, FBB and WH Smith. The retail presence of Future Group is only matched by Reliance Retail.
Indeed, “with a footfall of about 500 million and transaction data on more than 30 million customers, the company’s shopping data can be used to predict purchases,” as the ET report said.
The report also said that Future Group has been pushing technology integration, known internally as Retail 3.0, for the past one year, and it is “being piloted through several Easyday stores that function as a marketplace which are also used to study shopping behaviour.”
Of course, consumers’ data is what all corporates are hankering after. Big data is used by predictive analytics tools in order to predict the consumers’ shopping behaviour and to plan products and push sales accordingly, among the other profit-maximising purposes that data can serve.
But hiring the services of a firm that had assisted the US National Security Agency (NSA) in its surveillance programme and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq does not only drive home the seriousness of the retail wars but is downright scary.
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Founded in 2004 by right-wing tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who is also the co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies specialises in big data mining and analytics. The CIA’s not-for-profit venture capital firm In-Q-Tel was an early investor. Palantir provides services primarily to the US government, besides corporates.
Both the company and its technology are incredibly powerful and is rightly considered frightening.
Now, imagine the company helping US spies enabling your not-so-friendly supermarket chain to spy on you, in order to make you spend more and more. Scary and dangerous, isn’t it?
Once big capital combines with big data, there is no end to the possibilities of how people’s lives can be invaded, manipulated, and destroyed in the never-ending quest for maximising profits.
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