Big Data, What’s it All For?

In Big Data, Data & Analytics, Featured on App by Vaughn Highfield

Big Data captures consumer and loyalty information for everything

Data is being recorded about each and every one of us every day. When we buy our shopping, what products we order to our house, if we voted in the last election or not, even if we decided to take those onions off our online pizza order.

But what, exactly, is it all for?

Personal Information

Well, ProPublica's Lois Beckett just published an eye opening report on the huge amounts of personal information the consumer industry now tracks in the form of data.

Obviously there are the general pieces of information that are widely available from a variety of sources, such as: name, age, address, race, occupation and education.

Interestingly, Beckett also mentions that companies record things called "life-event triggers" such as those expecting a child, or if you're about to get married. Interestingly Experian updates its list of expectant and new parents "weekly."

More worryingly, some companies have information around how much you earn. But that information can only be shared with your permission to other lenders or mortgage companies want it.

Retail Information

Retailers also store an amazing amount of information around everyone's shopping habits.

According to Beckett, Datalogix keeps track of consumer spending on store loyalty cards amounting to $1 trillion at more than 1,400 brands.

Interestingly, romance-novel purchasers are recorded on file – it's anyone's guess as to why though.

International charity donors are also one of the many areas tracked, probably so further charities can reach out these individuals.

Government Information

The government track an awful lot of information about our lives – and not in a conspiracy theory way.

For instance, voting records are public information. This means that anyone can see if you voted in an election or not. While it doesn't disclose who you voted for – as that's always anonymous – some states in the US allow for companies to purchase these records for "commercial purposes".

Prison records are also tracked, alongside any bankruptcy filings you may have made.

The DMV also contains information on what cars people in the US are driving, and may sell the information onto third-parties depending on what purpose it is for.

Health Information

While federal law protects medical health records and any conversations with your doctor from being public information, data companies have found a way around such restrictions by recording what you're buying.

Now they track your "interests" in health conditions from your online searches or store transactions. Datalogix has an entire list of people classified under "allergy sufferers" and "dieters", according to Beckett.

Online Information

Everything you do online is monitored in one way or another. It's a minefield where your search history can make you a potential new consumer.

According to Beckett, email addresses for 80 per cent of the US population are tracked for links to categories such as "estimated household income" and which way you lean politically.

Facebook is also a goldmine for data farmers who look at how many friends you might have, what personal URL or aliases you might have – even other email addresses you may use.

Datalogix is also trying to pair retail data with Facebook data to see if Facebook advertising actually works.

Beckett sums up by saying that there is at leas some form of information about "basically everyone in the US" available to businesses that are willing to pay for it.

Its purpose? To sell products and effectively target advertising at who might buy it most.

However, big data is important to knowing exactly who your customers are – after all, you don't want to alienate them by putting out the wrong sort of advertisement.

Do you think that maybe too much information is being recorded about shoppers and potential shoppers?

Are we really utilising this wealth of information properly?

Let us know by leaving a comment below


To find out how best to leverage consumer information in a world centred around big data, head to Big Data World Mexico 2013 by downloading a free brochure now. Alternatively, register your interest for Europe's Customer Festival where a whole matter of issues will be discussed.