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We don't spy - Don't even try

If we could know everything about everybody every second of every day.

Within the marketing world (and certain governments) there is the persistent myth that if we could just know everything about everybody every second of every day then we could target just the perfect item that you would want to buy right to your desktop or smart device, instantly.

Truth, but not very much.

There is some truth to that, but not very much. The best they can do today is to show you a picture of what you were looking at yesterday, something you have already purchased, or more likely didn't even want. (If you see an advertisement with an attractive 20 something in their underwear, don't click on it. If you do, for weeks, you will have people in their underwear dancing around all over your computer monitor.) In big government data surveillance projects the best they have done is to show, after the fact, the data that they did collect that was missed or ignored until after some catastrophe had already occurred.

The myth continues.

U.K. Government Proposes More

The myth, however, continues and there is a feverish rush to more and more data collection hardware and software. The belief is that if they can just collect more data, faster, more effectively, then they can target you (for good or for bad) with laser like accuracy, even to the point of predicting what you will be shopping for tomorrow, or next week.

New laws are going on the books in various countries which attempt to force cyber companies to give governments any and all data the government wants in order to keep us safe. With billions, probably trillions of dollars and euros (and a few bitcoins) at stake the push for more and bigger data will continue, even in the face of the failures of it ever being useful to target individuals.

Governments and marketing mega-corporations will dig and dig until they find every bit of data about everybody on the planet, and then like the dog who catches the car will have no idea what to do with it.

Big data, 1980's style.

Elaine Penney works in the computer room
at the Pave Paws warning system radar.
The system is designed to detect
missiles launched at America.

By Arnold Reinhold via Wikimedia Commons.
Dysan removable CE disk pack
with 200 megabyte capacity

For those of you old enough to remember the large data storage arrays of the 1980's (if your assisted living facility has internet you might even read this page) then you will probably remember the big multi-platter removable hard disks.

Many a day would start with you setting down you cup of coffee and installing and mounting your platters in preparation for your days work. A big one might even have a whopping 200 megabytes on it. As the drive spins up you would wait for that 'thunk' sound as the heads positioned themselves over the platters, as you stared anxiously at the tape backup library, hoping to not hear that screech and squeal when the heads would crash and rip up the surface of the platter.

A data center in your shirt pocket.

Seagate 2 terabyte laptop disk drive

Fast forward 30 years and the term megabyte is hardly used any more. A typical hard drive is 2 terabytes ( a terabyte is 1024 gigabytes which is 1024 megabytes) which is 10,000 times bigger than that big 200 megabyte platter, and it fits in a shirt pocket. 21st century personal laptops have more data storage than the large data centers of 30 years ago. We even use one of our old laptops loaded up with Linux as a data server for a number of processes at our office.

Tablets and smartphones don't even use disk drives any more and instead use solid state drives which are smaller and more reliable in a portable device.

Really big data and the dream of knowing everything.

Hewlett Packard HPE 3PAR StoreServ Storage

Today's big data centers house storage arrays measured in petabytes ( a petabyte is 1024 terabytes). A typical 2 petabyte tower is 10,000,000 times bigger than that 200 megabyte platter of yesteryear.

Thus the age of big data (really big data) has arrived and fuels the dreams of knowing everything about everybody every second. The newest storage arrays used in big data don't even have rotating disks anymore. The big data arrays are made from solid state drives which are faster and more reliable than motors and heads and little aluminum plates spinning at 9200 rpm.

The statistical fly in the ointment.

As dozens, even hundreds, soon to be thousands of internet servers compete with each other to get that last $200 you have in your bank account (and they know how much you've got there) they need to know what you, just the one little person that is you, are doing and thinking and wanting, right now. That's the dream. The problem is, it's one of those fundamental impossibilities that has confounded the great minds for as long as humans have dreamed about such things.

The many are predictable, but are you?

It is true that if you understand the basics of human nature, that you can take that knowledge and precisely predict the behavior of any large group of humans. There are very few humans who actually understand the basics of human nature, but for those few that do they can be very accurate and effective prognosticators of future behavior, given the particular situation within which any particular group of humans find themselves.

OK, big data can be beneficial for that sort of analysis and predictions. Those predictions, however, are not what they want. The knowledge of large populations is good for some stuff, but they want to know about just one person, you, and what they can sell you, right now.

The nature of the many says nothing about the nature of the one.

You would think, and many do, that if you know the nature of a population, for example a population of shoppers, that you could select just one of those shoppers and predict what they might want to buy. It makes sense, but it's wrong. Pick any one person from a population and what they will say, think, and do will often be a surprise. If you are a parent of many children you already know this.

Statistics of a large population when applied to an individual says nothing about that individual. It's counter-intuitive but it's a fact. What you want and when you want it and how much cash you have to pay for it is not predictable based on the group of shoppers you are in.

We don't collect data to spy on you.

There are all sorts of software programs that spy on you and report to various marketing entities that use this data to predict what you might want to buy. In the aggregate it works pretty well. For any particular individual, you for instance, it's basically useless.

We don't spy - we don't even try.

We are a marketing website targeting advertisements to individuals just like you. We don't know what you want, what you are looking for, and all they spy software in the world won't tell us that. So we don't even try to spy. We don't record any data at all.

We don't record and remember anything about you after you leave our web page for the simple reason that keeping data about you has no future value. The idea that it does have future value is a myth, a trillion dollar myth, but nonsense just the same.

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