What the data miners are digging up about you – New Scientist
In today’s technological world we leave electronic traces wherever we go, whether shopping online or on the high street, at work or at play. That data is the raw material for a new industry of number crunchers trying to explain and influence human behaviour, as Stephen Baker explains in his new book The Numerati.
In the book, Baker meets the maths whizzes at the bleeding edge of this new way of doing business, politics, and even matchmaking.
You might be surprised at some of the things Baker’s “numerati” want to know and can already find out about you. Read on for some examples taken from the book, and click here to read our full review.
Mountains of facts
Databases know more about you than you realise. A Carnegie Mellon University study recently showed that simply by knowing gender, birth date and postal zip code, 87% of people in the United States could be pinpointed by name.
Websites can collect huge amounts of data from users. Retailers, for example, can track our every click, what we buy, how much we spend, which advertisements we see – even which ones we linger over with our mouse.
Sites can easily access your entire web browser history, enabling them to try and guess your gender and other demographic information.
Some of the links that data can reveal are surprising, and profitable. Ad targeting firm Tacoda discovered that the people most likely to click on car rental ads are those that have recently read an obituary online, apparently planning their trip to a funeral.
The second largest group are romantic movie fans – they are suckers for weekend rentals perhaps trying to emulate the lovey-dovey escapes common in romantic fiction.
The business of data
Data is big business for the numerati. US firm Acxiom keeps shopping and lifestyle data on some 200 million Americans.
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