One of the more infamous data usage stories over the last week concerned the removal of the iPhone app, “Girls Around Me.” This app aggregated Foursquare and Facebook data via their respective APIs to generate a map, with pictures, of women in the immediate vicinity that had checked in their locations using Foursquare. Note that this is not the only app that uses gender specific Foursquare location data, but it was the first to also automatically pull and display the Facebook pictures: other apps require a manual effort to search the Facebook data via a provided link.
I’m surprised that people are shocked when this kind of data aggregation hits the front pages. For years organizations have been using internal data to identify, profile and cross-sell to customers product offerings that were not immediately obvious as a business goal when their customers agreed to have their activities tracked. One example is Tesco’s profiling of their grocery customers via the captured Clubcard data to determine risk and pricing for their insurance product offerings. “… a group of students at the London School of Economics carried out a class project in which they made several applications for Tesco car insurance. When they gave the number of an unused Clubcard it earned a 1% discount. When they gave the same personal details but quoted the numbers of heavily used Clubcards, the discounts varied greatly, reaching 18%.” Don’t buy beer immediately after work on a daily basis if you are looking for a discount.
Now mix this aggregation of rich internal behavioral data captured by a business organization with publicly available profile data: data that is available via feeds from Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, etc. One gets a very good picture of expected behavior, affinity to product offerings, risks and costs of future customer support. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook states “Around the globe, people will share more and more of their lives online, transforming relationships on every level—personal, commercial and institutional.” As of result, “A famous cartoon once joked, ‘On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.’ Now dogs have their own profiles…” and we know how often the dog visits his favorite tree, and whether or not an ad for his favorite dog biscuit next to that tree will drive a sale.
Or whether that doggy in the (café) window is worth a look. Be careful with what you share: if it is on a computer, it is available to the world.