Your Own ‘Big Data’ is Silently Being Data Mined to Connect the Dots

Tagged in: , ,

With apps like Facebook, Waze, and the release of iOS 9, you probably didn’t realize that your cell phone is now quietly mining data behind the scenes. Don’t be afraid, though. This isn’t big brother trying to watch your every move, it’s data scientists trying to help you get the most out of your phone and its applications, ultimately trying to make your life easier.

Here are a few things your phone is doing:

Data mining your email for contacts

Since it was released late last year, Apple’s newest iPhone operating system (iOS 9) now searches through your email in order to connect the dots. For example, let’s say that you get an email from Bob Smith and the signature line in the email gives his phone number. iOS9 records this so that if his number calls you, and Bob isn’t in your contacts, Apple shows the number with text underneath that says “Maybe: Bob Smith”.

Apple was quick to point out that this automatic search is anonymous – not associated with your Apple ID, not shared with third parties, nor linked to your other Apple services, and you can turn it off at any time in your Settings.

Mining your data via Facebook’s facial recognition

Upload a photo with friends into Facebook and it will automatically recognize them and make suggestions for tagging them based on other photos of your friends.

When facial recognition first launched on Facebook in 2010, it automatically matched photos you would upload, and tagged your friends accordingly. This spooked so many users that Facebook removed the feature. They later they brought it back, this time around asking the users if the tagged photos were correct first. They also included the ability to turn it off altogether for those who thought it was still too ‘Big Brother”. You can turn it off via Facebook Settings -> Timeline and Tagging -> Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?

Waze crowd-sourced data mining for traffic

Google purchased Waze in 2013 for $1.3 Billion and people wondered “why so much?” Quite simply: because of the data. Accepting the terms of the app when you install it means that even when running in the background, the app sends the data to Waze of where you are and how fast you are driving. Waze had amassed a large enough user base that they have a constant stream of real-time traffic. The users are both the source of how fast they were going on any given road at any given time and the beneficiaries of knowing how fast everyone else is going on all other roads. There is no need for cameras or special sensors on the freeway. This meant Google could use the real-time data to make better maps and projections for traffic conditions, and re-route you based on traffic and incidents others had reported to Waze.

Here is a case where, if you read the fine print of the app user agreement, you might have second guessed your download. But like nearly everyone else, you probably didn’t read it and you are now avoiding traffic for the better.

Un-connecting the dots

Sometimes Big Data will have connected the dots, but you’d like to undo the connection. A recent article in the New York Times gave examples of how people managed breakups on social media:

‘I knew that if we reset our status to “single” or “divorced,” it would send a message to all our friends, and I was really hoping to avoid a mass notification. So we decided to delete the relationship status category on our walls altogether. This way, it would disconnect our pages quietly. In addition, I told him I planned to unfriend him in order to avoid hurt feelings through seeing happy pictures on the news feed.’

As ‘Big Data’ connections become more prevalent, luckily so too are the tools that help undo the connections they make. Facebook’s “OnThisDay” feature allows you to turn off friend’s reminders so that you aren’t shown memories of exes that you’d rather have not appeared.

Here at Service Objects, we are constantly looking at connecting the disparate dots of information to make data as accurate and as up-to-date as possible. Whether scoring a lead the second a user fills out their first online form on your website or preventing fraudulent packages from being delivered to a scam artist’s temporary address, having the freshest, most accurate data allows companies to make the best decisions and avoid costly mistakes.