That roller skating tangerine juggling cat

Why are Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in the hot seat? Just a few weeks ago you loved the video of the roller skating cat that juggles tangerines. You couldn’t resist sharing “What Disney prince are you?”.

I spent over 40 years in a career in information technology. Almost 30 of those years were in the data world. What you see today is the explosion and exploitation of data. I swore I would never talk or post about data once I retired. Ignoring my own advice, I am sharing things about data you might find interesting.

A simplified brief history of data

The 70s saw a wave of automating manual tasks and storing data on a computer. Technology improved in the 80s with data being stored in databases that allowed data to be shared and retrieved more efficiently. The 90s saw the rise of data warehouses, a place where data is brought together and stored in a way people can look at for patterns and trends.

At the turn of the century, data warehouses grew even bigger. The software to get data out of them became smarter. Something called business intelligence and business analytics made data warehouses very powerful. Kroger could track your shopping preferences or what to charge for a box of macaroni. All types of business embraced this new shiny big ball of data. The ball became bigger and bigger, smarter and smarter.

You may hear the term “big data” thrown around in the future. It is that gigantic ball of big data. What makes it so powerful is that it is stored in ways that allow data be look looked at in ways that would have been inconceivable even ten years ago.

What this really means to you

Good. You are still here, most likely bored. Let’s get real. Here are a few examples of what big data means to you.

Back to the Facebook Disney prince quiz… You let the quiz access your Facebook profile. You answered questions that explored your personality. The quiz creator is likely a marketing or analytics firm whose business is to collect trends and information about people. They sell data, specifically highly targeted data. Their client, maybe a political candidate, is looking for people who a sympathetic to gun control or another hot topic who are of a certain age that resides in their voting district. This is much easier than walking door to door or calling 1,000s of people.

Now the tangerine juggling roller skating cat… What harm is there in sharing that video? With every share, view, or click, you add another piece of data of who you are and what you like in the Facebook triple-mega ball of big data. Make no mistake, Facebook is free for a reason. They are gathering data to help them sell advertising and make money.

Can you free yourself from the gigantor ball of big data?

Sorry, not so much. You have some control over what big data knows about you. Above all, reconsider sharing your Facebook personal information. Be alert on clicking on hot topic Facebook posts that come from unknown sources. If it sounds fishy and looks suspicious, do some Googling before you share.

Facebook is redesigning its security and preferences. Expect some major changes soon. The following advice will likely see a new look and feel. Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences. This is where Facebook stores information you specially entered and more surprisingly information they gathered from your Facebook use. Did you know they determine your pollical leanings? Here is a good article on how to clear it from your profile.

I went through my Facebook preferences and cleared and stopped sharing a good bit of personal information. My Facebook feed is much cleaner and free of politics and targeted ads. Give it a try. You will be surprised how differently Facebook looks.

That’s all folks!

Congrats you made it through this techie post. I will leave you with this thought. Big data is not bad. It will transform our lives in the years to come. It will undoubtedly change and become even more powerful over time. Changes we can not even fathom will occur due to the exploitation and use of data. At the same time, we all must be vigilant of the data we share and what is shared about us.

Retired data nerd
Tom Bilcze

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