Big Data Pays a Visit

Today a coworker of mine came up to my desk and asked, “Do you want to see something weird?” “Sure!” I enthusiastically replied. Who doesn’t want to see something weird? So I went to her desk and there she showed me her FaceBook page, where there was an Amazon.com advertisement for a desktop wire file sorter – the model I had just bought for the office. She had never seen one like that before I’d put it on top of my cubicle wall a couple of days ago, but now here it was appearing in an ad on her FB feed.

I had done a search for it on Amazon.com (didn’t buy it there, though), but she and I are not FB friends, and so the connection between us isn’t obvious. Then she scrolled right on the ad, and up came a nightstand – the very one that had been sitting in my Amazon cart for a few weeks. I’d dropped it out of the cart a couple of weeks ago, but here’s the interesting thing: I searched for the file sorter using my business account, and the nightstand was in the cart of my personal account.

“Clearly there’s a connection between you and me,” I said.  I told her about Big Data, and how big companies like Amazon and FaceBook are collecting all kinds of information about us, who we know, what we like, and so forth.  I also told her how, a few days ago, I created an Instagram account so that I could see the wedding photos where another coworker was a bridesmaid, and again, that other coworker and I are not FB friends and have no other connection but work.  When I created that account Instagram suggested some people I might want to follow and amongst some random famous people was yet another coworker, one of our warehouse guys, with no other connection between us.

“So, the lesson here,” I said, “is to be careful where you buy your sex toys.”