Big Data, Predictive Analytics And The Future Of User Privacy

Have you ever noticed that Amazon seems to know you better than your best friend does? Isn’t it amazing that Facebook can connect you with a friend from the past that you haven’t thought about for years? How is this possible? It’s due to predictive analytics.

Predictive analytics have become very sophisticated. It’s not only the future of business, it’s the now. They can accurately predict your shopping desires, travel needs and even social circles. Cutting edge companies like Apple, Google, Netflix and Microsoft are obvious users along with hedge fund managers and air traffic controllers. But the algorithms within analytics have become so sophisticated and so accessible that even non-internet companies like Tesla Motors and Cox Communications  are using them to shape their future planning.   

Predicting the future is hard. If it were easy, the $1.5 billion Powerball wouldn’t have existed. But, identifying more contributing variables to equations with the ability to process those equations at hyper speeds is making the future less murky, at least to some. And even if we can’t predict the future, we can determine tendencies and overlapping desires and intersections. These data allow us to predict future tendencies.

The key is big data. We have access to much bigger as well as more informative data than ever before. Instead of asking people what they do, it is chronicled and catalogued and dissected. It used to be that data came from groups of volunteers filling out surveys. Now, however, people have smartphones that create a continuous information feedback loop.

When you go somewhere, your phone records that. When you buy something, your credit card information is loaded into a mega database along with your phone footprint. How did you pay? Recorded. What do you shop for online? Noted. How long do you stay places? Tracked. What do you read? Documented. With whom do you communicate? Logged and cross referenced. All of your activity is now collected digitally and stored, analyzed and with the help of supercomputers and predictive analytics.

For some, this signals the beginning of a dystopian world where we are monitored constantly. OpenAI is a billion dollar startup developed to watchout for just such a reality. Others simply enjoy the aid advanced computations provide to our daily tasks. Either perspective, it’s hard to imagine that the monitoring of our live data is going away.


[Photo by Bob Mical / Flickr]