Data may be big, but information moves slowly

Data may be big, but information moves slowly

12 weeks. That is how long it took for information to wind its way through the corporate hierarchy and reach a decision maker, and for the response from that decision maker to become action. This figure was based on analysis of an early client organisation. We looked at the hierarchy of its management, the committees, reports and spreadsheets, and realised that it had no hope of becoming an agile organisation unless this changed.

Not only did the information take a long time to reach the decision-makers, it was tainted and obscured when it did. Tiny, arse-covering acts at multiple levels of the hierarchy, had progressively distorted the information in such a way as to often limit its impact. People too often heard what they wanted to hear and reported that up the chain, not the raw facts.

Analysing Analytica

I was reminded of this when preparing my response to the Cambridge Analytica story for the radio. My friends Dan Sodergren and Steve Kuncewicz have been doing a fantastic job handling the bulk of the commentary duties on the BBC, but I still found myself doing four or five interviews over the last few days.

Speak to anyone in the digital industry about the Cambridge Analytica story and their response is one of bafflement. Though the BIMA (British Interactive Media Association) dinner I spoke at this week was under Chatham House rules, I don’t think the attendees will mind me revealing this: when asked if anyone was surprised by what CA had been doing, no-one raised their hand. Yes, CA may have breached the terms of use of the data it had (or it had been supplied that data by someone who didn’t have the rights to do so), but beyond this, the core of the story is basically ‘digital marketing firm does what digital marketing firms do’, just for a political cause rather than a brand.

I don’t mean the parts about blackmail and prostitutes: that all came later. I mean utilising personal information to better target campaigns to the audience. Not only is this what marketing agencies do, it’s the very core of Facebook’s business model. If there is a surprise in this whole story, it’s that more people weren’t aware of this.

Ear to the ground

Alongside the more high profile national stuff, I continue to do a lot of local radio. That’s where I started and I like to keep supporting it when I can spare the time. This has the added advantage that I both get a sense of where the conversation is at, for the person in the street, and have to constantly practice tailoring my explanations for a non-expert audience.

Even given this, I was surprised at the level of outrage about Facebook’s behaviour. The phrase “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product”, and variations thereof, has been around for at least forty years. I figured this had sunk in to the general consciousness now. That people knew of Mark Zuckerberg’s enormous wealth and realise that money had to be coming from somewhere.

Clearly not. This morning I was asked: “Is sharing our personal data the price of being on Facebook?” YES! Yes it is!

Somehow, this information had moved very, very slowly through the populace. Or, people had heard what they wanted to hear.

Change is coming…or is it?

In my first interview on this subject, I suggested this might be the bucket of cold water that wakes a sleeping population. Actually, I’m not so sure. Yes, Facebook is already losing users in some demographics and this is only likely to accelerate this process. But as one person responded, they may just roll over and go back to sleep.

 

 

This post forms part of my Future of Technology series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Technology page.

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Tom Cheesewright