As we hurtle into the future, we’re leaving a larger digital wake behind us. International Data Corporation estimates humans will produce 1,800,000,000 terabytes of data this year alone.
Simultaneously, the power to sift through these vast stores of information is getting keener. In 2009, the team BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos won the Netflix prize by crafting an algorithm for recommending movies with ten percent better accuracy than the movie company’s own engine.
“Mashup Bombs” are what await us as these two phenomena converge. Our ability to compare the increasing amounts of data will improve and previously undetectable patterns will emerge. Not only that, but the ability to produce revelations won’t be confined to future data – we’ll have the power to look back through all of the petabytes of data already cached on server farms around the world.
- What if the GPS records of mobile phones were matched with employee payroll records to spot when people are fudging their hours?
- What if anonymous publishers could be outed through algorithms that compare writing samples?
- What if aggregate market data and networks of personal connections could be filtered to show when bidders were given preferential treatment for government contracts?
Things are well underway:
- Wikipedia + IP Address Location Database= in 2007, a CalTech student named Virgil Griffith created a tool called Wikipedia Scanner that tracked the IP addresses of Wikipedia editors back to their sources and outed institutions from Diebold to the CIA as having edited their own Wikipedia entries.
- Twitter + Maps = The Centers for Disease Control are monitoring Twitter, watching for keywords related to illness in order to spot pandemics before they get going.
- Sex Offender Databases + Real Estate Listings + Google Maps = As local governments have begun to publish sex offender photos and profiles on their websites, this information has been cached and combined with real estate listings and Google’s open API for its versatile maps tool. The result is the ability to see if the location of a house you’re interested in looks like it has chicken pox.
- IRS Records + Google Maps + Facebook =Fundrace is a site that allows users to map out what political campaigns their neighbors are contributing to, as well as compare those same databases to find out who your friends on Facebook are donating to.
Just because an indiscretion has gone unnoticed is no guarantee that it will go unnoticed in the future. As a PR pro, I don’t look forward to responding to the indiscretions of predecessors, but that may be something we have to prepare for.