Big data is coming for us. It’s like the younger, online sibling of big brother, watching our every move. But if you’re a consumer who’s not wild about being tracked by retailers, this time, the enemy is inside the walls, or, to be more exact, your hard drive. Big data takes careful note of how many times we search for “wrinkle cream,” “acne cure” or “weight loss teas,” where you’re logging in from and on what kind of device.
Say you’re online, shopping for rain boots, searching for options on large sites like Amazon, Zappos or Target. If you pull up your Facebook feed just a few minutes later, odds are an ad for rain boots is exactly what you’ll find there. Ads trail you on the internet thanks to cookies — tiny text files that websites deposit on your computer and use to keep track of how many times you visit a site or what you were searching for.
Collect all those cookies from you and me, and all the other users out there, add them together, and you get big data. Retailers know what you, specifically, are interested in, like rain boots. They also know what people like you are interested in — if a consumer is shopping for boots, maybe he or she will also buy an umbrella or tomato soup.
Though data may not be the sexiest topic — “it’s kind of a deal killer at cocktail parties” says Eric Siegel, author of “Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die” — data about us can be powerful.
Big data can even figure out when we are going to die, Siegel says. “Anybody can go to death-clock.org and see your expected exact date of departure,” he says.