The recent 60 Minutes report on Data Brokers - Selling Your Personal Information reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks prior to Christmas…

While searching for Christmas present for my wife, being a technology kind of guy, I of course used Google to help find some information on a specific gift. Apparently I forgot about the Law of Unintended Consequences….

Wife: “I was checking my Gmail, and for some reason there were about six ads on the screen for the digital camera I wanted for Christmas. And there’s not just one ad, but a bunch. Why the exact same ad? Is Gmail broken or something?

Me, a bit alarmed at realizing what’s going on with the Google Ads: “Hmmmm… That’s odd. The internet must be running out of ideas.”

Wife: “And it’s funny that Gmail shows me exactly what I want for Christmas. It’s kind of spooky, like its reading my mind. I just wish the camera wasn’t so expensive since we’re trying to cut back on gifts for each other this year….”

Me, trying to sound innocent: “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. I’ll bet Nikon is doing a lot of advertising to push their new cameras.”

Wife: “I guess so. But still, ads for exactly what I wanted are a little like big-brother.”

Me, trying to think how many times I needed to search for “necklace” or “soccer ball” or “fried chicken” to quickly change the Google Ads: “Can I borrow the laptop when you’re done? I need to do some checking on the shipping dates for the kid’s Santa presents”. And a in a much quieter voice, add “and use Incognito Mode next time I’m doing any shopping”.

While the story above is hopefully a little funny and fairly harmless, it’s important to note the larger context of Privacy and the Data Collection explosion. We should all consider everything we do on the internet as stored in some gigantic database, ready to be used in an unexpected way; no matter how much we try to keep our gift research a secret.

But putting on my Data Analyst hat, the lesson is that we should always be aware and alert to the multitude of data we have available to us that exists outside of the traditional sources, if it can be captured and stored in a meaningful way. And that leads to the next discussion on Big Data. Just so it doesn’t spoil my next gift idea.