Let’s Talk About Data

It’s quite rare that I talk about my day job on the blog. Recently there has been a brouhaha about people’s data not being properly protected. I’m going to try and explain what has been going on and why it happens. I’m going to be doing it within the context of advertising. In reality advertising is another form of influence peddling.

Advertising is, at it’s core, all about matching the right product with the right audience. You identify the market that you are aiming at, find the website\television show that they connect to, and Bob is your proverbial uncle. The customer is happy, your client is happy, and you can walk away with a large bag of money.

To achieve this, advertising companies need as much data as possible on possible customers (that is everyone), and thanks to the internet they can collect so much data. Generally, social media Ithey monetise their customer data.

The first thing that you have to assume is that there is no such thing as privacy on the web by default. Most sites use tracking cookies which monitors the websites that you visit. Have you ever noticed that you when you buy something on the internet that sometimes you’ll see adverts for it over the following few days? That is all thanks to the tracking cookie.

Generally speaking, your individual data isn’t that important. It becomes valuable when it is part of a large data set. The more people’s data I’ve got the more you can get from it. At this point you can compare each person’s data and find trends. It is these trends that advertisers want their greedy little hands on.

Once you discover a link between a number of different points of data, it can be utilised. For example, if you know that people who search for popular baby names, also have a tendency to look for hatchback cars, you can do something with that. You’ll be surprised at what data links that are out there.

Supermarkets have been doing this for years. That loyalty card you own, they’ve been collecting data on everything that you’ve bought and have been using that to sell you more stuff. At least you get money off your shopping with it. Unlike the internet companies.

You’ll notice that I used internet companies, rather than social media companies, or even saying Facebook. The thing is that all of those websites that you frequently use all do this to a certain extent. Facebook is at the center of the recent issues, simply because they probably have the biggest data mining system out there.

Any hew, your average internet company gives you free access to their service. Isn’t that nice of them. In exchange, they use the information you give them to create data sets which they use for advertisers. In most cases, these data sets are internal. Advertisers create a model of their preferred customers, and it is run against the internal data sets.

Part of Facebook’s business model is that they can allow others to create their own data sets. Generally, it is for academic purposes, but in the Cambridge Analytical case there were two problems. The first was the passing on of the data set, and more importantly, there was the slurp of data without permission.

I didn’t use the words data breach as there was no protection to breach. At the time it happened, it was something that academics were allowed to do. That gate has now been bolted, but at the time, it was common practice. Critics like saying the word breach as it makes it sound illegal. But what law did they break?

The scary thing in this case wasn’t that they took all this data, but it was what they did with it. Yes, they used the information to identify those that they wanted to influence, but it was the websites\articles\tweets that were created that was truly scary. Each individual could be targeted by just the right information to help influence them. I’m worried that someone may come and take my gun, so here are a bunch of resources that heightens that fear.

Hopefully this posts explains how data is collected and why. Next time, I’m going to give you some things to think about before you press that big red delete button on the internet.

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