Guest post by Finnegan Pierson
With plenty of news stories revolving around how Facebook and other big internet companies use the data they collect from us, you may be wondering what other aspects of your life are affected by data collection. In fact, the number of areas of your life that are touched by data analysis might surprise you.
1. Online Shopping
Online shopping is an easy one. Every single online shopping site you use tracks your browsing history of the site’s products to serve them up to you later in highly targeted ads as a way of reminding you of purchases you may have been researching on their site and added to your cart, but didn’t purchase immediately.
Google takes that a step further by analyzing your search history to serve you ads that are relevant to the things you have been looking at online. Facebook does something similar, which is why when you publicly announce your divorce you may start seeing ads for divorce lawyers in your area. Data is used to analyze all of our activity online to sell us products right when the data says we will be most willing to buy them.
Our banks use big data to keep our financial information safe, too. They can tell by analyzing your spending patterns whether or not new purchases on your credit card are your purchases. That is why when you head out to buy a new 70″ 4K TV, you will get a call from your creditor to make sure it is really you buying that big-ticket item.
Most banks can also spot identity theft and take steps to stop it before you can. For example, if a mother of two does most of her shopping at Whole Foods but suddenly there are lots of little purchases at gas stations and convenience stores all over town, the bank knows something is up. They will contact their customer to ask about the purchases to establish whether or not the customer’s debit card has been lost and might need to be frozen and replaced.
3. Music & Media
Data also has a significant effect on the music and media that you are exposed to if you use online streaming services like Pandora and Netflix. Both of these services use an algorithm that analyzes the shows that you have watched and liked to recommend you new shows and music the algorithm thinks you will enjoy.
If you start watching a lot of stand-up comedy on Netflix, pretty soon all of your recommendations will be for new stand-up comedy specials because the algorithm knows you like stand-up comedy. The same is accurate for how Pandora’s music genome project works. Most people tend to like a genre of music, and as you thumbs up more music that belongs to a specific style and sound, you will start to get more of those same songs as recommendations. That is all thanks to the way companies are using data to analyze your behavior.
4. Fighting Crime
Big data also plays a role in helping police officers and first responders to know where they might be needed most given a set of factors. It can help a precinct know when to station extra officers to cover an area to help prevent crimes before they have even taken place.
At the home user’s level, big data is also helping keep your home secure. A home security system installed in your house connects to a database of operators who can instantly analyze any problems detected by the system and alert you whether you are there or not. Some security systems can even help simulate your usual home activity by turning on lights and the TV at specified times when you will be out of town.
As you can see, there are a variety of ways that companies are using data that impacts our everyday life in ways that you probably never even imagined. That impact is only going to grow over time, as more and more about our personalities and living habits are analyzed by algorithms designed to understand very specific things about us.