The Buzzword of the decade: Big Data

Dylan McKenna, Tech Reporter

It’s everywhere. Every tweet, every swipe of your Freedom card, every Google search query, it’s all being stored on some server somewhere. Whether it’s RMU’s data center on the north shore, one of Google’s 20 or so data centers around the world, or its the NSA deciding to cache and skim your last email. It’s all there, in a big jumble of numbers, possibly organized by date, or by user account, or by subject, who knows. So why is Big Data a buzz word in the tech industry? Algorithms and correlations made between any of these seemingly random tidbits of data can be worth thousands, even millions of dollars.

I heard my favorite example of data correlations in 2012 when Charles Duhigg of the NY Times wrote an article telling how Target knows if you might be pregnant even if you didn’t tell them. Like most, if not all major retailers, Target purchases and collects data on every customer. They know everything you’ve ever bought from their store,as long as you paid with a card, and they collect additional data, like demographic information. This helps them send you coupons and advertisements that are pertinent to your lifestyle. According to Duhigg, all of this data helps Target assign values to your personal customer identification number. Values that in this case, tell Target how likely you are to be pregnant.

Swiping that advantage card isn’t the only time you contribute to Big Data. Social Media like Twitter and Facebook were game changers when it came to tracking market statistics. In addition to 160 characters, each tweet contains time and location data. Anyone, including yourself, has the ability to look at all the tweets that have ever been sent. Companies sort them based on whatever they want, whether they look for their product name in the tweet, or by where and when it was sent.

I recently had the pleasure of learning about a Pittsburgh based company that specializes in social media analytics, AKA, organizing all those tweets. A popular television show that the company couldn’t disclose the name of, but hinted at it’s premise of walking dead people, recently hired the company to tell them if there was a better time to play the show. In this case, after analyzing all of the data that folks were inputting about the episodes, the company concluded that the show should stay where it is.

Big Data is always expanding. Google knows how long it took me to write this article and RMU knows that I’m a coffee drinker, and they know how often I’m in my dorm room, as long as someone didn’t hold the door for me when I walked into the lobby. PNC Bank knows I’m a college student at RMU, and that they are not my primary banking institution, which I have received countless mailings concerning. Sheetz knows how often I purchase gas from them, and they know the approximate location of my parent’s house based on how often I patronize their Bethel Park location.

You have been adding to this data yourself. Just by reading this article, Google analytics recorded where you are, how long you’ve had this page open, how you got to this page, and it will be recording everything until you leave this website. Now don’t freak out, analytics are being collected on you at every website you visit, not just here. A lot of websites go a step further and use something called cookies to collect even more data.

 Some folks are nervous about all this data collection and privacy advocates have a field day every time a corporation’s data is compromised. Data is being collected everyday, all day, and it’s being used to help you spend more money, or to increase the efficiency of something, or in some way that is making somebody a ton of dough. And if you can figure out some correlations between just a small bit of all this data, then you are likely to make some cash yourself.