Revelations about Apple and Google tracking the movements of mobile devices has caused quite a stir. It seems their mining of data and ability to construct complex algorithms that can predict future behavior incited outrage on the part of privacy and civil rights groups. In a bit of a twisted irony, it turns out that the very apps that have enabled smart phones have also provided a wealth of data for inquiring minds who want to know.
The confluence of social media and cloud computing is shaping a new world order, where marketers have access to relational databases and a litany of information that has until now been seemingly unfathomable. The implications are extraordinary, as emerging technologies will propel mind numbing analytics about how we work, live and interact.
Consumers are fearful of things like electronic medical records which evoke an emotional response about our privacy, even though they are nearly certain of advancing medical science and improving patient outcomes. Business owners must embrace the potential of a new universe of analytics that will open a window to insight on customers unlike any we have ever seen.
The current debate centers on whether such mining is legal and ethical and how it could be abused. Attorneys search the Facebook pages of potential jurors to determine their biases. Cellular phone providers track which users are most likely to switch carriers based on the behavior of their friends. While these unseemly usages of data may threaten our sensibilities, social norms are shifting to the point that privacy is becoming an expectation of a past era.
Physicists at Northwestern University tracked the movements of over 100,000 people and 16 million records, and assert that they can predict (within 93% accuracy) the location of a user at a given time in the future[i]. Those with an entrepreneurial bent will find productive uses of such information and will find legal ways to exploit it. Microsoft, Apple and Google rank in the top 10 amongst the world’s most valued companies because they are the ones that allow us to organize our information.
Those seeking competitive advantage will invest more heavily in technologies and analysts who not only tell us how our customers have behaved but how they will behave in the future, and react to the stimuli we produce. Decisions ranging from inventory selection, marketing spend, labor utilization, etc. will be driven by more precise data, promoting further improvement in U.S. productivity.
The use of such data will become the keys to the castle. As Bill Gates once said, “be nice to the nerds, chances are you’ll end up working for one.”
[i] The Really Smart Phone by Robert Lee Hotz Wall Street Journal April 23, 2011