“I Can” vs. “I Should” use Big Data

As companies continue to try to actually deliver on the promise of “Big Data,” we’ve seen a number of them fall flat on their faces in sometimes very public ways.

  • In this article, a business school professor and Big Data expert has a spooky experience firsthand.
  • And when firms sell their customer data (or even appear to do so), the response can be immediate, vicious, and public.  An online poster to the huge online community Reddit posted this:

-I used a throw away hotmail that averaged maybe 10 spams a day that I’ve had for 5 or so years.
-I went to Geico.com and used their “Get Free Rate Quote.”
-The quote was $854/6 months.
-I said damn, that’s a lot. I had 1 speeding ticket when I was 19, -I’m currently 31 and drive a Nissan.
-I didn’t further my search at that time and put it on the back burner.
-I checked my hotmail later, 1,019 emails in 4 days, a letter in the mail from Gieco, an advertisement in the mail from Geico, other car insurance mail magically appeared in the mail.
-I called Gieco and asked them to chill the fuck out. They said they don’t do that. I said that’s funny you do.
-I went to Esurance. $92 a month and no increase in spam mail. Just the constant barrage of shit from Geico.

  • In the same vein as Prof. Johnson above, I paid the fee to get a look at what Acxiom knows about me after this article in the NYTimes.   The process was so complex that it became clear that the entire process was simply for PR purposes.  It required mailed physical checks (what year is it?  no credit cards, no online system at all?), email confirmations to a person rather than a system, and locked, encrypted PDFs.  And after coming out the far side of the process, I received only the bare basics- the last 5 addresses I lived at, family members, etc.

So what’s the bottom line?  Companies leveraging big data must:

  1. Drive the biggest insights from the aggregated data.  (Trust us, there’s gold in that data)
  2. Be overly cautious about how it’s being used whenever it is precise to individuals.  
  3. Fully disclose what they keep, and allow anyone to opt out.  The small numbers of opt-outs will pale in comparison to the value of avoiding bad press.

If it doesn’t happen with self-regulation, it won’t be too long before an external force intervenes- either through consumer revolt, or worse, government intervention.