Data is not an asset, it’s a liability

A short blog post that drives home a very important point:

Here’s a hard truth: regardless of the boilerplate in your privacy policy, none of your users have given informed consent to being tracked. Every tracker and beacon script on your web site increases the privacy cost they pay for transacting with you, chipping away at the trust in the relationship.


The all too typical corporate big data strategy boils down to three steps:

  1. Write down all the data
  2. ???
  3. Profit

This never makes sense. You can’t expect the value of data to just appear out of thin air. Data isn’t fissile material. It doesn’t spontaneously reach critical mass and start producing insights.

Which leads to the realization:

Think this way for a while, and you notice a key factor: old data usually isn’t very interesting. You’ll be much more interested in what your users are doing right now than what they were doing a year ago. Sure, spotting trends in historical data might be cool, but in all likelihood it isn’t actionable. Today’s data is.


Actionable insight is an asset. Data is a liability. And old data is a non-performing loan.


Less “Social Media,” More Passive Data Collection, Yay!

Foursquare had a great idea:

  • remove the social aspect of sharing, just track people silently all the time, it’s easier anyway
  • why bother with user-generated content, just feed them follow “experts” and feed them tips ads

Among the great features of the revamped app are:

  • tracking your location all the time
  • virtually no privacy controls
  • virtually no way to interact
  • suggestions almost solely based on paid advertisements expert opinions and tips
  • promise of more targeted ads outside of Foursquare

ArsTechnica has a nice quote on this:

This is the cleverest portion of the service’s revamp: make customers feel like they are sharing nothing, when in reality they are sharing everything. Passive information sharing and collection without the social friction—why didn’t anyone think of this before? The tragic, realistic answer is most likely “battery life.”
— Casey Johnston, ArsTechnica

Statt kausal-logischer Ermittlungsarbeit, computergestützte Wahrsagerei

Die Süddeutsche stellt sich die Frage “warum demokratische Regierungen so große Angst vor ihren Bevölkerungen haben” … und beantwortet sie eigentlich nicht. :(Dem Artikel kann man dennoch etwas Gutes abgewinnen, da die Begründungen für die Datensammelwut von Behörden und Geheimdiensten und ihr tatsächlicher Nutzen zur Sprache kommen, die im folgenden Zitat gut zusammengefasst sind:

Statt kausal-logischer Ermittlungsarbeit betreibt man eher computergestützte Wahrsagerei, der man umso mehr glaubt, je mehr Daten, Profile, Verhaltensmuster in der Datenbank lagern.

Creepy Pregnancy Test

The NYT has a nice piece on how tracking your shopping habits allows marketing firms to determine if you are pregnant and how far along you are … even if you don’t know.

And there is a followup from Forbes.

Money Quote:

What Target discovered fairly quickly is that it creeped people out that the company knew about their pregnancies in advance.

“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.” – NYT

– Forbes