There’s a very old saying: Watch what people do, not what they say.  Now that we have entered the age of Big Data this phrase holds new meaning.

In a recent article on Edge, Alex Pentland explains why:

“I believe that the power of Big Data is that it is information about people’s behavior instead of information about their beliefs…It’s not about the things you post on Facebook, and it’s not about your searches on Google, which is what most people think about…This sort of Big Data comes from things like location data off of your cell phone or credit card, it’s the little data breadcrumbs that you leave behind you as you move around the world.  What these breadcrumbs tell is the story of your life.  It tells what you’ve chosen to do.  That’s very different than what you post on Facebook.  What you put on Facebook is what you would like to tell people, edited according to the standards of the day.  Who you actually are is determined by where you spend your time, and which things you buy.”

Perhaps the saying should be amended: Watch how people spend their time and money, not what they post on Facebook.

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

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