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21 Scary Things Big Data Knows About You

What does big data know about you?

Quite a lot.

Every time we use a computer, access our phones, or open an app on a tablet, we’re leaving a digital trail. Most people are vaguely aware that Google knows what they’ve searched for, or that Facebook knows who their friends are, but it goes much, much deeper than that.

I’ve compiled a list of 21 things Big Data knows about almost every one of us — right now:

  1. Of course, Google knows what you’ve searched for. So do Bing, Yahoo!, and every other search engine. And your ISP knows every website you’ve ever visited. Ever (even in private browsing).
  2. Google also knows your age and gender — even if you never told them. They make a pretty comprehensive ads profile of you, including a list of your interests (which you can edit) to decide what kinds of ads to show you.
  3. Facebook knows when your relationship is going south. Based on activities and status updates on Facebook, the company can predict (with scary accuracy) whether or not your relationship is going to last.
  4. Google knows where you’ve travelled, especially if you have an Android phone.
  5. And the police know where you’re driving right now — at least in the U.K., where closed circuit televisions (CCTV) are ubiquitous. Police have access to data from thousands of networked cameras across the country, which scan license plates and take photographs of each car and their driver. In the U.S., many cities have traffic cameras that can be used similarly.
  6. Your phone also knows how fast you were going when you were traveling. (Be glad they don’t share that information with the police!)
  7. Your phone has also probably deduced where you live and work.
  8. The Internet knows where your cat lives. Using the hidden meta-data about the geographic location of where the photo was taken which we share when we publish photos of our cats on sites like Instagram and other social media networks.
  9. Your credit card company knows what you buy. Of course your credit card company knows what you buy and where, but this has raised concerns that what you buy and where you shop might impact your credit score. They can use your purchasing data to decide if you’re a credit risk.
  10. Your grocery store knows what brands you like. For every point a grocery store or pharmacy doles out, they’re collecting mountains of data about your purchasing habits and preferences. The chains are using the data to serve up personalized experiences when you visit their websites, personalized coupon offers, and more.
  11. HR knows when you’re going to quit your job. An HR software company called Workday WDAY -1.00% is testing out an algorithm that analyzes text in documents and can predict from that information, which employees are likely to leave the company.
  12. Target knows if you’re pregnant. (Sometimes even before your family does.)
  13. YouTube knows what videos you’ve been watching. And even what you’ve searched for on YouTube.
  14. Amazon knows what you like to read, Netflix NFLX -0.85% knows what you like to watch. Even your public library knows what kinds of media you like to consume.
  15. Apple and Google know what you ask Siri and Cortana.
  16. Your child’s Barbie doll is also telling Mattel what she and your child talk about.
  17. Police departments in some major cities, including Chicago and Kans...
  18. Your auto insurance company knows when and where you drive — and they may penalize you for it, even if you’ve never filed a claim.
  19. Data brokers can help unscrupulous companies identify vulnerable co.... For example, they may identify a population as a “credit-crunched city family” and then direct advertisements at you for payday loans.
  20. Facebook knows how intelligent you are, how satisfied you are with your life, and whether you are emotionally stable or not – simply based on a big data analysis of the ‘likes’ you have clicked.
  21. Your apps may have access to a lot of your personal data. Angry Birds gets access to your contact list in your phone and your physical location. Bejeweled wants to know your phone number. Some apps even access your microphone to record what’s going on around you while you use them.

This is actually just the tip of the iceberg. As we dive deeper into the benefits big data can provide to us, we’ll also be happily coughing up more and more data. The iPhone Health app, for instance, can collect data about all kinds of intimately personal things about your health.

It’s up to us, as consumers, to be aware of what we’re giving away, when, and to whom. I would love to hear your concerns and comments on this topic.

Bernard Marr is a best-selling author & keynote speaker. His new book: 'Big Data in Practice: How 45 Successful Companies Used Big Data Ana...'

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