How much information does Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other advertisers collect from us? Supposedly, it is mountains of data, a gazillion petabytes of data, so much data they know more about us than we know ourselves.
We give away personal information for free. Well, almost free. Well, actually, free is correct. We use Google’s free apps, Facebook’s free social media service, and Amazon searches, and from all that interaction we leave a trail of data that gets collected, harvested and used. How?
In an oddly perverse way, we give up specific freedoms and personal information to the Axis of Evil and, in turn, use that same information against us to change our habits, beliefs, and purchases. That’s manipulation, folks.
Are Google, Facebook, Amazon et all good at collecting data? Yes. Are they as good at using data against us?
Maybe not. Chris Matyszczyk figured out it might be less manipulative that Google et al want us– and, more importantly, advertisers– to believe.
Google revealed what it told advertisers about me. It was a mess.
So says a happily married man. How can it be a mess? Data is data. Numbers don’t lie.
Seek deep into Google’s bowels and you’ll find a page where Google lists what it (thinks it) knows about you. Oh dear, it thinks I’m single.
You see, there is a way to dig into Google’s data to see what the search engine giant knows about us, and much of that information is shared in one form or another to advertisers so we can be manipulated.
For example, search for two or three somewhat unique products on Amazon. Put them into your Cart. Leave them alone. Search again later for the same products. Over a two week period you will begin to see ads online for those same products, and you’re likely to get email spam promoting the same things.
Here’s some of what Chris found:
It knows that I’m, oh, between 35 and 64 years old. Well, yes. There are several images of me online. In some, I look rougher than in others. In all, I look quite bald. Perhaps that’s how the marvelous machines made their deductions. Google also knows that I enjoy what it calls American Football and basketball.
This is where big data gets interesting. Mac360’s car-aholic, Ron McElfresh, regularly searches for exotic cars, some trucks, and interesting automotive tidbits posted on his site, McSolo.
What he seldom gets is online ads for cars or trucks. Go figure.
What about Chris?
Google has told advertisers I’m into autos and vehicles. I’ve had the same car for 10 years and find cars ineffably dull. Yet apparently I’m also astoundingly moved by urban transport. Odd, because the last time I was on a bus was around 1991.
Are you beginning to sense a problem with Big Data?
Google does not make it easy to find information about users, and that might be because the information is wrong more often than it is right.
Then there’s my apparent fascination with pets. Sadly — and this says so much about my frighteningly cold-hearted nature — I’ve never had a pet in my life.
That can’t be right, can it? Can Google’s Big Data collections be that far off?
I used Google’s Ad Personalization settings and found similar issues with me, with Jesse, and even with our kids (semi-adults).
It’s beginning to look like Big Data might be big, but pretty stupid, too.