What happened last week:

1. This Report on Big Data

big data

The Federal Trade Commission in the US released a report last week on Data Brokers – those companies that collect personal information on Americans (mostly), compile it, and then on-sell it to marketing companies and/or companies looking to do background checks. The FTC had performed a survey of 9 Data Broker firms, and there is clear sub-text of horror, with findings like:

“For example, one of the nine data brokers has 3000 data segments for nearly every US consumer”

I particularly enjoyed this paragraph:

Data brokers infer consumer interests from the data they collect. They use those interests, along with other information, to place consumers in categories. Some categories seem innocuous such as “Dog Owner,” “Winter Activity Enthusiast,” or “Mail Order Responder.” Potentially sensitive categories include those that primarily focus on ethnicity and income levels, such as “Urban Scramble” and “Mobile Mixers,” both of which include a high concentration of Latinos and African Americans with low incomes. Other potentially sensitive categories highlight a consumer’s age, such as “Rural Everlasting,” which includes single men and women over the age of 66 with “low educational attainment and low net worths,” while “Married Sophisticates” include thirty-something couples in the “upper-middle class … with no children.” Yet other potentially sensitive categories highlight certain health-related topics or conditions, such as “Expectant Parent,” “Diabetes Interest” and “Cholesterol Focus.”

Because, you know, the really distressing¬†part of this is the political-incorrectness of categories…

On a separate note, you might think that all this data comes from websites and cookie trolls (there are, of course, those). But actually, one of the largest sources of big data is the government itself (voter registration data, public census data, court records, licences, real estate registers, company registers, etc). And then there are all those purchases that we’ve accumulated on store cards in order to “build credit histories”.

So I’m not really sure how the legislation recommendations include giving people the right to opt out. That bird has already flown the coop and been caught by the cat. And digested.

2. Google’s Driverless Car

Google announced that it would be putting 100 prototype driverless cars on the road. With a top speed of 40 km/h, these sound like a general irritation. They can also be summoned with a smartphone app.

FYI – you should totally check out the link in the title. There’s a video that involves many people getting confused by the lack of steering wheel.

Economically speaking, some implications:

Shocking Effects of the Google Driverless Car

I’m not sure that they’re exactly “shocking” – but then again, this was an infographic developed by an car insurance company…