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Dangers of Big Data

I was dropped by my previous auto insurance company for a couple of at-fault accidents on my wife's driving record.

Trouble was, she was not involved in those accidents in any way. They happened to somebody else and somehow got on her report from a data collection company used by the insurer. And, try as I might, I could not convince the insurance company of this. I provided the company with a note from my previous insurer confirming that those accidents were not hers. I even provided an official driving record from the state showing those weren't her accidents. It didn't make any difference to the insurance company (as much as I'd like to see the company burned to the ground in an agonizing bankruptcy, I won't name it, but it definitely wasn't on my side). The accidents were on the ChoicePoint report--that's all that mattered.

I contacted the data collection company and began the nightmarish process of trying to get their information corrected. I eventually gave up; it just wasn't worth the hassle they were putting me through. (Ironically, I've never--ever--been in an at-fault accident. Believe it or not, I've never even received a moving violation, in several decades of driving. I was probably one of the best customers the insurance company could've had.)

I bring up these painful memories because of recent reports about a Big Data company, Acxiom, that this month announced a portal where individuals can look up information collected about them. Several articles noted that the portal, AboutTheData.com, reported some incorrect information. So I checked it out.

Sure enough, the site had a few things wrong, including my birth date, which was strange because I had just provided that date as part of registering for the privilege of looking up my info (pretty sly way to collect data, when you think about it--these people aren't stupid, like people in some other companies, if you know what I mean). They also got my education level, race and age of children wrong, among a few other things. Keep in mind the portal is in beta, and it gives you the chance to correct the data (I didn't even try to go there) and even opt out of the system.

So, just a warning: If you're a developer and your company is hopping on the Big Data bandwagon and you're assigned to the project, be very careful about the quality of the information you collect, especially if the data will have a significant impact on the success of the project--and the company's bottom line.

I mean, just imagine how much money that previous insurance company left on the table if the fiasco I experienced was commonplace among its multitude of customers. Fortunately, my new insurer uses a different data collection company that actually has accurate information and I got a sweet rate. And my present insurer is soaking up those monthly premiums and hasn't had to pay out a dime. Think of that, repeated thousands and thousands of times. If they only knew, I imagine the headquarters honchos in Columbus, Ohio, would be kicking themselves.

Have you any Big Data horror stories? Comment here or drop me a line.

Posted by David Ramel on 09/19/2013 at 6:47 AM


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