The business of BIG DATA

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Every time you use your smartphone to Google something, every time you tag your location on social media, and definitely every time you buy something online, companies are collecting your data. In fact, most major retail brands, companies, and online sites that sell products or services are carefully “mining” your sensitive personal and financial data, reselling it to third-party data collection companies who then analyze, repackage, and sell it again.

These data brokers don’t have to dig too deep to find your data, as the information at their fingertips includes government records, financial transactions, purchases, online searches, social media activity, medical records, phone records, address histories, criminal records, financial history, family ties, and religious/political identifications.

Today, we’ll highlight 25 statistics to illuminate the role of Big Data in our lives.

Companies spent about $31 billion on obtaining consumer data in 2013, but that’s skyrocketed in growth every year. In fact, by 2018, Big Data spending is expected to reach $114 billion annually.

Just how much data is being collected? The amounts are so huge that they’re even hard to conceive, with more data created in the past two years than the entire history of the human race before.

Acxiom, one of the largest data collection companies, admits to being in possession of data on more than 200 million Americans, with an average of 1,500 individual pieces of data on each!

According to Acxiom’s annual report, their ocean of data includes “Over 3,000 propensities for nearly every U.S. consumer,” as well as “Multi-sourced insight into approximately 700 million consumers worldwide” with individual data profiles kept current through “nearly 11 trillion consumer record updates per year.”

By the year 2020, it’s estimated that for every person on the planet every second, 1.7 megabytes of new data will be generated.

Today, there are around f4.4 zettabytes of data amassed in the “digital universe.” But by 2020, that will grow to an estimated 44 zettabytes – or 44 trillion gigabytes.

Where does this massive volume of data come from?

Every second around the world, we generate:

40,000 search queries on Google alone (1.2 trillion searches per year).

About 1.23 billion people log onto Facebook daily, leaving a trail of “digital breadcrumbs” as they post nearly 5 billion pieces of content daily.

Every minute of every day, we upload about 300 hours of video to YouTube alone.

Each year, we take more than 1 trillion digital photos, sharing billions of them online (80% of all photos now are on smartphones.)

Speaking of smartphones, it’s no coincidence that the Big Data industry has exploded at that same time smartphone use has grown exponentially.

In fact, this year alone, more than 1.4 billion smartphones will be sold around the world – all collecting and distributing your data every time you use them. By the year 2025, it’s estimated that there will be 6 billion smartphones in use around the world!

As we mentioned, our use of social media platforms like Facebook provide an incessant stream of data to be collected, interpreted, and resold or used for consumer advertising.

Just how involved is Facebook in mining your data? Reportedly, the world’s largest social media account stores ALL user activity from the site permanently, including your location with latitude and longitude down to the 8th decimal place at all times you’re logged in, likes, comments, patterns of behavior, network of friends, etc.

All of this data can be sold, analyzed, and extrapolated for companies to better target consumers. In fact, a joint study by Cambridge and Microsoft found that just by using Facebook likes, researchers could infer not only consumer behavior but very personal and intimate details like sexual orientation, political/religious beliefs, drug use, IQ, and personality traits with nearly 100% accuracy.

They even use your information for nefarious purposes like tracking and targeting genetic diseases, addictive behaviors like gambling, alcohol consumption, smoking, and more, and dementia.

Data brokers and companies pass your user data through algorithms to infer, predict, and influence future behavior, exponentially increasing their ROI for new client or customer acquisition.

However, it’s estimated that only .05% of the data they collect is actually being analyzed and used.

In fact, for an established Fortune 1,000 company, increasing their access to consumer data by only 10% has been found to increase their net profits by up to $65 million annually!

Similarly, retailers that utilize big data regularly increase their profit margins by up to 60%, almost instantaneously.

So it’s no wonder why 73% of companies and organizations have invested (or plan to invest) in big data as part of their outreach platform, and 65% of executives from global brands admit that they’ll need big data just to stay competitive in the future.

While some data could potentially be used for benevolent purposes – like how some big cities are using our data to eliminate $200 billion in wasted energy – for the most part, the unfettered access these entities have into our lives is a frightening proposition.

It turns out these countless companies, middlemen and brokers are great at collecting your sensitive personal data, but not so good at protecting it from others. In fact, data theft, identity theft, and subsequent financial crimes are the leading form of criminal activity in the world today – yet only a small fraction of perpetrators are ever caught and prosecuted.

There are scores of recent cases of massive data breaches and theft from big companies. In just one of many recent notable cases, the credit bureau Experian was breached in October, with 15 million of their customers’ private information, including social security numbers, stolen.

But many cyber criminals don’t even need to steal the data they use to steal your identity or rob you blind – they can buy it legally. Such was the case when InfoUSA sold a list of elderly sweepstakes players a criminal ring of scam artists, who then easily stole more than $100 million from the senior citizens.

Similarly, Ideal Financial Solutions purchased data on 2.2 million consumers from brokers and then used it to help themselves to their bank accounts between 2009 and 2013, stealing tens of millions.

The industry is so unregulated and unpoliced that just about anyone can become a data broker or third-party middleman, with a nonstop flow of consumer financial information from loan applications, credit applications, retail store accounts, etc. – 95% of which is sold for as little as $0.50 a piece.

Experian, told me, under conditions of anonymity that their own databases contained over 1,000 propensities on nearly every U.S. consumer.

In fact, the head of the Federal Trade Commission – the U.S.federal agency that is responsible for regulating the big data industry, has publically admitted that they don’t even know how many data brokers exist, who they are, or what they’re doing.

Even the White House has started to invest in data collection, allocating more than $200 million of our taxpayer dollars into data collection projects that target U.S. citizens.

In fact, the aforementioned Acxiom’s clientele includes not only 47 Fortune 100 companies but 5 of the 13 largest U.S. federal government agencies and both the Republican and Democratic political party!

So it was poetic justice when Brian Kebs of Krebs on Security conducted an experiment to see if he could obtain the address and social security numbers of all 13 members of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.

It turns out it was so easy to get the information – and more – that he only needed to visit two identity theft service sites to get their data, and obtained the personal data on the chief officers from the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just to make his point.

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