Big Data: Is it just ‘creepy’?

Larry Bellehumeur of Novotech

(Blog) — Ok, this takes creepy to new levels, says Larry Bellehumeur…  Last fall, I wrote a guest blog here about some very expensive (and intelligent) garbage cans that are being used in England.  Those were kind of creepy, as they were keeping track (anonymously) of how many users of a particular carrier were in certain locations.  The idea was to allow for better real time data. However, what you’re about to read is different…

In a recent article, it was revealed that a neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada was taking tracking to a new level. Queen West is a pretty cool area for celebrity watching, shopping and dining. It tends to have a very progressive and young audience, but I am not even sure if they would like to know how much they are being tracked.

Apparently the area has put in a system that allows them to follow the exact path of a user in the neighbourhood, completely without their permission or any acknowledgement from the user.  They use a combination of your Bluetooth and WiFi receptors, even though you have not logged into the network to create a unique identifier for your device (which basically means that they are tracking you).

The benefits to the neighbourhood are quite extensive:

1. They know how much time people spend doing various activities (to better optimise parking, to find out how weather affects time spent in the area, etc).

2. They get to see what combination of stores people may go to (to better link specials, to better cross promote, etc).

3. They get to know the effectiveness of advertisements (as they both know if you received the ad and if you responded to the ad).

There is no doubt that this information is quite valuable to any store owner… but at what price?

I have always believed that when you get something free (like free WiFi at a store or bonus points for using a loyalty card), it’s never really free because you are agreeing to pass over information (whether in the form of your shopping data or your email address). The truth is that this is a trade-off that I (along with most consumers) are OK to make. However, for the scenario I am presenting now no one agreed to it, and until now, most didn’t even know that they were being tracked.

Bottom line

This one is offside to me.  It is bad enough that companies (and the government) already know everything that they do about me. While I have nothing to hide, it doesn’t mean that this is OK. One of the biggest obstacles to Big Data is the idea of Big Brother (everyone knows what detergent I use, when I wash my dishes (thanks to power usage data) and what path I take to work (thanks to traffic cameras). Now, they know how long I had coffee for?

As pioneers in this exciting, yet unproven area of Big Data, we need to balance what is possible with what is right… and this one is not right.

However…it gets worse.  Wait until my next blog about how free Airport WiFi really is….

The author is Larry Bellehumeur, EVP of Sales and Marketing at Novotech Technologies ( Follow Novotech on Twitter (@NovotechM2M) or follow him personally
(@LBNovotechM2M).  They’re also active on LinkedIn so you can follow their company page.

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