Newimage4Here are five interesting uses of big data that are happening every day:

1. Google now studies the timing and location of search-engine queries to predict flu outbreaks and unemployment trends before official government statistics come out. Interesting.

2. Credit card companies routinely pore over vast quantities of census, financial and personal information to try to detect fraud and identify consumer purchasing trends. While not new, the big data approach is improving accuracy and precision, as well as speeding up prediction times.

3. Medical researchers sift through the health records of thousands of people to try to identify useful correlations between medical treatments and health outcomes. I wonder if the healthcare insurance industry is taking advantage of this?

4. Companies running social-networking websites conduct “data mining” studies on huge stores of personal information in attempts to identify subtle consumer preferences and craft better marketing strategies. This is a subset of the Target case study.

5. A new class of “geo-location” data is emerging that lets companies analyze mobile device data to make intriguing inferences about people’s lives and the economy. It turns out, for example, that the length of time that consumers are willing to travel to shopping malls—data gathered from tracking the location of people’s cell phones—is an excellent proxy for measuring consumer demand in the economy.

NewImageThese applications do beg the question about privacy, “When does now-casting – search through massive amounts of data to predict individual behavior – violate personal privacy?”

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