Today’s post comes from Nick Taylor, Innovation Technology Officer at Lippe Taylor.
A commonly expressed fear in the past few years has been “Google knows too much about me!“ It’s an understandable concern considering that every search, every YouTube video, every email you write (if you’re using Gmail) even every text message you send (if you’re on a Droid) is being tracked, downloaded, kept in a database, and instantly cross referenced with millions of other pieces of data via an algorithim, in an apparent effort to better serve you. It’s an impressive and admirable structure but tends to cause an Orwellian fear as many believe that it’s just a matter of time before companies like Google become a daunting Big Brother figure with their wealth of information. These types of fears reflect a greater concern about Big Data. Big Data is a term that gets thrown around, a lot. To oversimplify it in one sentence: Big Data is the notion of a tremendous database that cross references data through an infinite number of combinations to find connections between them and thus determine trends and make decisions. Google is often the first company people think of when they hear the phrase Big Data but the concept and structure is being used by everyone from department stores to law enforcement.
In one instance, Target was tracking the buying behavior of pregnant moms to determine who to send coupons for baby products to – at first this seemed to backfire when an angry father stormed into his local Target and yelled at the clerks when his teenage daughter received coupons for infant formula based on her buying activity. He soon apologized when his daughter turned out to in fact, be pregnant. But overall, will the promises of Big Data be beneficial or detrimental to us as a society?
Where things get a little gray are with a new branch of criminology called “algorithmic criminology” which predicts the likelyhood of criminal behavior based on data. In its purest form, these programs can raise a red flag on someone as a potential serial killer who, for example, purchases an unusual amount of knives and garbage bags. In such an instance, that individual could be carefully watched by the police. Demographical, financial, and buying behaviors are all starting to be tracked and cross referenced by the government as well as law enforcement to make these types of behavioral predictions. Scared yet?
Personally, I’m not. I’m a believer in big data and feel that it can instantly eliminate the guess work and countless years of psychological analysis, manual number crunching, and inefficient statistical predictions to accurately find trends and facts in nearly real time. Overall, in the end I think that as people, we’ll learn more about ourselves than ever before.