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What Stays in Vegas

What Stays in Vegas

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What Stays in VegasAdam Tanner’s new book, What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data – Lifeblood of Big Business – and the End of Privacy as We Know It, is both enlightening and frightening. Tanner, a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, has also been a reporter and bureau chief for several news agencies and newspapers. His writing exhibits the thoroughness of an investigative reporter and the intellectual curiosity of someone searching for an answer not yet available.

Tanner’s story begins with the casinos in Las Vegas, shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. In the wake of a steep decline in air travel and concern over future attacks, the casinos began building rewards programs to attract gamblers. In the process, a lot of internally-collected data was appended to individual gamblers’ data files and, eventually, some casinos also added third-party data.

Tanner’s first stop in his story is the office of Caesar’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman, a former faculty member at the Harvard Business School (HBS) and co-author of a groundbreaking 1994 article about the lifetime value of loyal customers. After working as a consultant to Harrah’s executives, Loveman wrote to Harrah’s then CEO suggesting ways to use the data they collected to build customer loyalty. Harrah’s CEO, Phil Satre, recruited Loveman as chief operating officer and Loveman subsequently implemented the customer rewards programs at all Caesar’s properties utilizing high-level data analytics, increasing Harrah’s revenues and profitability. As part of the research for this book, Tanner proposed spending a year studying how Caesar’s collects data on its customers, and Loveman agreed.

While the leadoff story is about Caesar’s data collection and the development of its customer rewards program, the book also discusses some of the major companies that collect data on consumers. Their consumer data ranges from marriage licenses and criminal convictions to credit ratings and salary and family information, etc., which is then brokered to other companies (excluding some financial, medical, and education data which have government regulations limiting information distribution). Tanner discusses the ethical considerations of using third-party customer data in conjunction with internally generated customer data, an issue that some companies consider more seriously than others.

Executives interviewed by Tanner at Caesar’s and Disney discuss the importance of not alienating customers by recommending promotions not pertaining to information harvested by their companies. Tanner writes about several startup companies seeking consumers to provide personal information in return for a percentage of fees paid by businesses to them (the customer) to access their files. He states that every company collecting data on individuals should be required to share that information with the individual when asked. His stated rationale is not to slow down the wheels of commerce, but to make people feel better about the process and the accuracy of the data.

The amount of personal information collected on individuals in the future will most likely increase, particularly with the expansion of technology to “the Internet of Things” where devices like Fitbit can record your daily steps and sleep patterns. Tanner’s book is a valuable resource for individuals interested in this topic as well as executives debating how to use data to increase the loyalty of existing customers or solicit new ones.

While there are many books addressing predictive analytics and big data, this is the first I’ve read that provides a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of data collection and the impact on both individuals and companies.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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