ays the Wall Street Journal “Today, almost three-quarters of the world's people carry a wireless phone. That activity generates immense commercial databases that reveal the ways we arrange ourselves into networks of power, money, love and trust. The patterns allow researchers and companies to see past our individual differences to forms of behavior that shape us in common.” What makes the mobile phone unique is that it really is an extension of ourselves, staying with us everywhere we go.
The Big Deal
Companies pay big bucks to acquire, analyze, and manage segment and customer information. It is a billion-dollar industry, and privacy concerns abound. Yet, what type of information are these aggregators and other companies collecting, and is it really an infringement on our privacy? Enterprises, like individuals, take privacy and the security of personal data seriously too, as they’ve experienced the negative implications of security breaches firsthand.
Almost overnight, society has become more accepting of sharing personal information. This new comfort level transcends to the enterprise, where employees, particularly younger ones, may not see the importance of securing proprietary information. Social media, especially Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter ushered in a new era where users voluntarily and eagerly provide personal information about themselves and others. While this poses some risks to the enterprise, it also creates new opportunities. Social media companies, application developers, marketing and research companies, and other companies are able to aggregate data to better target ads, sell information, and gain insights to their own customer base not previously available.
Data for Good
The information collected from mobile phones is helping businesses, and research and science, in areas such as product development, public health and urban planning. This in turn helps humankind. At MIT, for example, researchers analyzed changes in movement and communication patterns, and could detect flu symptoms before study participants realized they were getting sick.
Also, says WSJ “Advances in statistics, psychology and the science of social networks are giving researchers the tools to find patterns of human dynamics too subtle to detect by other means. (At Northeastern University) after analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, researchers determined that…with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone's future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.” Imagine how this information could help with disaster planning, traffic control, healthcare demands, etc.
One Giant Network
Does it really matter that third party companies may use GPS tracking technology to learn where I buy my groceries and which doctor I visit? Do I really care that a third party company knows where I shop online, where I get my news, and who I befriend? For some, the answer is yes. Another perspective is that this really isn’t much of a change at all – it’s just an evolution. Retailers and other companies have always known personal information about their constituents – many associates know their customers by name, know their needs and preferences, and send them cards on their birthdays. Since the days of the paperboy, newspapers have known the names of their subscribers and the neighborhood in which they live. Before Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, people met in person at Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce events, house parties, and other personal and business networking events. Today, the world is one giant network of people, where information is being captured, stored, and shared as digital data. Appreciating privacy concerns, enterprises and people can do great things with this treasure trove of information.