Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the aggregation of information. How databases are compiled and kept on all of us.
I think most people understand their credit histories are sequestered somewhere, but not the rest of what gets kept. So much of what we do now is digitally linked. Use a credit card or a cellphone, buy airline tickets, even go to the grocery store, there’s a record.
I read in an article where it’s claimed Wal-Mart can recreate your sales receipt from any purchase made there. That’s each individual item associated with you, your credit card, the time, location – everything. They keep the data because the data is valuable to them.
We are now entering an era where even more data will be kept.
In my car is an E-ZPass. It lets me buzz through toll booths without stopping. The little plastic rectangle is silently polled and responds to an unseen sensor. My Mobil Speedpass works the same way. I carry it with my keys. I hope the only time it’s polled is when I’m getting gas, but I just don’t know.
Speedpass and E-ZPass both use RFID technology. There’s a little transponder in the device which listens and identifies itself. These two examples are not where RFID will end. The U.S. Customs Service has proposed putting RFID chips in passports. Some cars use them to verify the authenticity of an ignition key.
The use of these devices can be to our benefit. Speedier, more accurate payment. Who wouldn’t want that? But, there’s no way for us to know they’ve been polled… and who has polled them.
The data from any of these sources, by itself, is mostly harmless. But when all of these (and more I haven’t thought of) are put together, the implications are huge.
How much about yourself do you want known and by whom? Our laws are pretty well defined in this regard. Data does not belong to the person described. It belongs to the aggregator – the person doing the collecting.
That’s why newspapers and TV stations can print accounts of ballgames or speeches. The person producing the information is not in control – the person compiling the information has the rights.
That’s one reason a news story from a few days ago is so important and scary.
Criminals posing as legitimate businesses have accessed critical personal data stored by ChoicePoint Inc., a firm that maintains databases of background information on virtually every U.S. citizen, MSNBC.com has learned.
The incident involves a wide swath of consumer data, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, credit reports and other information. ChoicePoint aggregates and sells such personal information to government agencies and private companies.
ChoicePoint ended up telling 35,000 California residents their personal information was divulged. I’m not sure if there are more… though there probably are. California has disclosure laws which made the notifications necessary. They are the only state that does!
Here’s part of what ChoicePoint has said:
It appears that consumers
Let me repeat the title of this entry: I am not an economist. I’m just making sure no one is confused that I might have some expertise as a I ponder the plight of Wal-Mart.
To call Wal-Mart the world’s largest retailer is to underplay their significance in our economy and the economy of the rest of the world. They are the 500 pound gorilla. It’s not tough to look past them – it’s impossible.
Don’t let Wal-Mart’s country bumpkin beginnings fool you. This is one sophisticated retailer. Everything that’s sold in any Wal-Mart store is accounted for within a few minutes on massive computers at their Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters. Wal-Mart distribution system is second to none. Stores are restocked, items are re-ordered with minimal human intervention.
With all this going in Wal-Mart’s favor the revelation that their Christmas season sales lag the rest of the retail sector is stunning¹. What’s going on?
Is it possible that Wal-Mart has become a victim of the recent spate of bad publicity surrounding the retailer’s practices? Within the last year there has been labor unrest in Southern California where other stores blamed their problems on Wal-Mart’s wage and insurance policies. Then CNBC and Frontline (PBS) both did long form documentaries on Wal-Mart – not all positive. Then there’s the objections raised in many communities when Wal-Mart came to town.
A backlash – even a small backlash would be enough to account for what’s going on. Meanwhile we still have 3 weeks until Christmas and it’s possible that Wal-Mart can make up what they’ve lost.
It will be interesting to watch.
¹ – It should be noted that early season data is very sparse but some credit card numbers have shown an exceptional growth in sales.
As websites go, this one isn’t Wal-Mart, it’s mom and pop. Actually it’s just pop, as mom doesn’t code websites in PHP, HTML, CSS and the other obscure computer languages I deal with.
What I’m getting at is, this is a very small site run by one individual. Though I want lots of people coming here, I have no way of attracting them except by links from other sites (always appreciated) and citations on search engines like Google.
A few months back I noticed lots of people going to my September 2003 archive page. What was driving them there? The answer: Google!
If you go to Google’s image search and enter “hurricane photo“, the resulting page has one shot of a ship that stands out. That phony hurricane photo, which has been circulating across the net for years, is on my site.
Yesterday I found if you enter “Thanksgiving Day Parade“, one of my photos is first on the screen! Interestingly, if you leave out the word “day” you’ll find someone else in the top spot and my photos nowhere to be seen.
Website traffic is not the difference between life and death for me. On the other hand, more is definitely better. By understanding how Google decides to do what they do, I can get more people here. I think I understand why my images do so well. Now if I could only get my text to register the same way.
I work in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a smallish city – just a bit over 100,000 people. The downtown, though decimated by years of decay and neglect, is starting to show some bright spots, including restaurants and residents.
Yale University shares land with New Haven – not much else.
For a small city, New Haven has a lot of history. Our current president was born here (though he hides it well – claiming to be a Texan). He and his predecessor went to school here. The cotton gin, first assembly line using interchangeable parts, telephone switchboard and phonebook, Erector Set and Lionel trains all originated in New Haven.
However, if you were to ask a native New Havener which first was most important… it would be none of those. That’s because New Haven is the birthplace of the hamburger.
How weird is that?
There’s a legend… and it’s probably true… but I’ll leave that to the proprietors of the place where I had dinner tonight, Louis Lunch.
Louis’ (pronounced Louie’s) is a tiny place, so well hidden that I had driven by it hundreds of times over the last 20 years and had never seen it! The walls are brick. The booth I sat in was minuscule with carving on the wooden table (the same kind of carving often left by students on their schoolroom desks). Sitting against the outside wall I easily felt a cold draft against my legs.
The action at Louis’ takes place behind the counter, where burgers are broiled vertically, over an open flame, in three cast iron grills. The grills themselves are ancient – actually dating from the 1890’s!
You can have onions, cheese and tomato, but no ketchup! No French Fries either. At Louis’ it’s their way or no way, and that includes toast, not a bun.
There are two reasons Louis’ is still around. First, it’s the burger, of course. It is unbelievably tasty. Second, and more important, Louis’ is an anachronism. In this Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Amazon.com world, Louis’ operates without consultants and accountants and p.r. flacks. There aren’t rounding errors or spoilage. Each individual burger counts.
I’m amazed it took me 20 years to get there.
Blogger’s note: I have no clue where, when, or even whether to use an apostrophe when referring to Louis’. If you’re an etymologist, my apologies in advance.