Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I heard another story recently about DATA, BIG DATA and how RICH we will all be when we finally learn how to make money from it. And I'm pretty sure I called, BULLSHIT.

I have bad news: the world has plans for your data. And those plans don't involve you.

What is Facebook? What is Google+? What even is Reddit? These are places on the internet. Not the internet: places. I don't even think you would call these places web portals anymore; they are communities. And they want to make sure you never leave.

What is Google for that matter? It's not the internet. It's a location. You know that Google can alter how it scores different websites so that some show up near the top of the search results and some drop to the bottom. And some probably don't make the cut at all. We know this if we work in libraries because most of our subscription databases aren't indexed in Google. So they don't exist on the internet. All of that content is available through your library and it doesn't really exist online because it can't be found through a Google search.

The Internet becomes smaller each day. Some people spend their whole day on Facebook. For them, the internet is Facebook. But we know that the internet is 1000 times bigger than Facebook. But not for many many many people.

So if you spend all day on Facebook or Twitter or even using Google, you are a captive audience. Any perceived freedom you feel you have while roaming the internet is simply an illusion. Unless you are your own ISP; and if so, bully for you.

And what does that mean to a company? To Facebook, it's free labor. If you spend all day there, Facebook grows richer as you click on the stories and games they show you. Your choices dwindle because you have chosen to give your time to Facebook. And these choices tell Facebook who you are and what you are as a dataset. You become predictable. Which means Facebook doesn't need you. A computer can reproduce your actions on Facebook. Your predictability has become predictable. All your data become worthless.

The same is true with Google. It would take a million million cameras mounted on every street to collect all the information in the real world that gets collected about us every day.

The only way your data are valuable is when you do not know you are being observed. And when the world learned that the USA was watching everyone, we learned that we were under scrutiny. I can guess that all the data collected over the last couple of weeks is crap since anyone worth watching altered everything they did. Patterns were lost. But since the USA knows that everyone knew they were being watched, they can just create a subset of new data for the last two weeks. New patterns to compare with the old.

We want to be clever and hide from whoever watches us, but we're never clever enough.

Let me explain my understanding of our current level of online or consumer anonymity. I'm not very smart, so I'll keep it simple so I don't lose focus and wander off.

You see a coupon in the paper for $1 off beef jerky. You take it to the store and save $1. Now there may be some code on that coupon that tells the company in which newspaper in or which region of the country it appeared, but unless you use a credit card for your jerky purchase, you remain anonymous.

But if the beef jerky company offers that $1 coupon in exchange for your email address, along with the promise of future coupons, then that company can begin to build some data profile for you. Even if it's a bullshit email address that you only use for jerky coupons, it's still information. And if some day you forget or get sloppy and use that email for something important, then the jerky company, or more accurately, the company collecting the data and reporting to the jerky company, will then have solid data about you. And then the company collecting the data compiles it with all the other data until it creates some kind of profile it can sell to other companies not involved in the delicious world of jerky manufacturing.

And when enough people respond to the online bait and get hooked, the jerky company will cease to offer those mostly anonymous print coupons. Because the data collected from the email campaign has become so much more important.

And you continue to collect those valuable jerky coupons in your email along with every other person. But since those others are not nearly as clever as you, the jerky company learns much more about them than they do about you. So their data are more valuable.

And then you, still relatively anonymous because you are so clever, find that your coupons stop arriving? What? And you go back to the website to enter your email address again, but it gets rejected. Why?

Because the jerky company doesn't need you anymore. It has enough consumer data. And you have been priced out of the market. You're no longer worth that $1 coupon. Or worse, you were never as clever as you thought you were because the data company was able to collect the data from everyone around you which gave them a clear picture of what and who you are simply by your proximity to known data. Have you ever heard the term, "I drink your milkshake"?

I keep hearing these stories about the value in my data. But there is nothing that proves that my data are worth anything. That's driving me crazy; I'm going to treat the word 'data' as singular from now on... since the goal of these companies is to isolate my data from everyone else's, my data will eventually become indistinguishable from me. Singular.

And if you look at the way the internet works, you know that it only takes a small percentage of internet users to determine what has value, what is trending. The internet doesn't really need me, or you.

So imagine that your online worth or even your credit is no good. Imagine if you can't get a free Gmail or Facebook or Pinterest account because no one wants your worthless data.

And from what I can understand, the internet is run by the same market forces we see in other commodities whereby manufacturers attempt to drive down the cost of labor and materials in order to increase profits. And guess what? On the internet, you are the labor and your data is the material.

Imagine being so discovered and understood and known that no company wants to show you ads anymore. Because everyone knows where you eat lunch, how you shop, when you go to the movies, etc.

BIG DATA had its way with you. Now BIG DATA is bored with you. And BIG DATA just wants you out of the apartment.

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