Using Data Is Nothing New

Today Facebook’s stock went down 12% and the Dow went down over 300 points on the news that Cambridge Analytica might have used their user base to target posts to get them to vote for Trump. Now, I don’t like that people fall for targeted posts without first vetting their validity, but the fact that a company may have used data to target people is nothing new. There is no reason for the stock market to go down because of it.

For as long as there have been customers, businesses have been analyzing what, where, when and how they buy stuff and particularly why do they buy other guy’s stuff and not ours. Politicians are the ultimate product. They want us to buy them. There have been consultants to sell us politicians forever.

When I worked in Canada I used to analyze data about long distance phone users all the time. It seems so quaint now that we don’t pay for long distance, but back in the dark ages it used to cost lots of money to make a “long distance call.” My whole childhood every phone call my my grand parents started like this, “hurry, run get your father we are calling long distance.” Not even a “hello.” It was even worse when we lived in London and they would call from North Carolina, “GET your father.” See calling internationally practically needed a mortgage.

So in my analyzing data days, my favorite bit of detective work was “Why is the greatest international long distance traffic between Japan and Prince Edward Islands?” Prince Edward Islands, known as PEI, was the smallest Canadian Province with not much going on. Figuring out from the data alone made me wonder if there was a huge drug ring, or big time sushi grade tuna being black marketed.

When I could no longer come up with reasons for this traffic pattern, which was wildly profitable to my client, I did the old fashion kind of research. I called some of the numbers in PEI that had the most Japanese callers and asked them why? Turns out, they were mostly Bed and Breakfast establishments that were close to where the fictional Anne of Green Gables lived. See the Japanese were obsessed with Anne of Green Gables and many a honeymoon was spent on PEI.

This was not something that the data alone could tell you. In fact, in a million years I could not have guessed that. But once I knew it, I was able to use the data to help create calling plans to maximize selling phone services to PEI customers.

So please don’t sell your stock because you have the awful realization that data is being used to sell people. We all know that plenty of people got “sold” on Trump, but it is not the data’s fault. He just used it better. But like all sales schemes there is one truism, “buyer beware.”

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