Home > Uncategorized > 3 Terrible Big Data Ideas

3 Terrible Big Data Ideas

May 25, 2016

Yesterday was, for some reason, a big day for terrible ideas in the big data space.

First, there’s this article (via Matt Stoller) which explains how Cable One is data mining their customers, and in particular are rating potential customers by their FICO scores. If you don’t have a high enough FICO score, they won’t bother selling you pay-TV.

No wait, that’s not completely fair. Here’s how they put it:

“We don’t turn people away,” Might said, but the cable company’s technicians aren’t going to “spend 15 minutes setting up an iPhone app” for a customer who has a low FICO score.

Second, the Chicago Police Department uses data mining techniques of social media to determine who is in gangs. Then they arrest scores of people on their lists, and finally they tout the accuracy of their list in part because of the percentage of people who were arrested who were also on their list. I’d like to see a slightly more scientific audit of this system. ProPublica?

Finally, and this is absolutely amazing, there’s a extremely terrible new start-up in town called Faception (h/t Ernie Davis). Describing itself as a “Facial Personality Profiling company”, Faception promises to “use science” to figure out who is a terrorist based on photographs. Or, as my friend Eugene Stern snarkily summarized, “personality is influenced by genes, facial features are influenced by genes, therefore facial features can be used to predict personality.”

Here’s a screenshot from their website, I promise I didn’t make this up:

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 5.22.55 PM

Also, here’s a 2-minute advertisement from their founder:


I think my previous claim that Big Data is the New Phrenology was about a year too early.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 25, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Omg I guess hipsters are the new terrorists? How do they explain OK City? I know there’s a wonderful Latin term for this sort of flawed logic only I’m laughing too hard to remember. Love your blog.


  2. May 25, 2016 at 8:29 am

    “Snarkily”? I was just paraphrasing, as literally as I could, paragraph by paragraph, the theory-and-technology section of their website. That’s really what it says, go read it!

    Now if I say that someone should smack these guys in the face for being dumbasses and *then* see what can be learned from an analysis of their facial profile, OK, that might be a little snarky.


  3. May 25, 2016 at 8:32 am

    I’d like to see their facial profile of Donald Trump…


  4. msobel
    May 25, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Sounds like a plot for a novel. Data scientist builds algorithm that shows that women are better than men in traditional male jobs.


  5. mathematrucker
    May 25, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Ha! – “Professional Poker Player” – the image does look a little like Howard Lederer, but Vanessa Selbst would easily slip past the detector.

    Liked by 1 person

    • May 26, 2016 at 2:11 am

      Doesn’t remind me of any professional poker player, offhand. And looks like something out of a 1940’s pulp novel.


  6. RTG
    May 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I’m assuming you saw this article on Slate about LinkedIn’s news algorithms. But in case you missed it: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2016/05/linkedin_called_me_a_white_supremacist.html

    And I’m surrounded everyday by people who think I can solve every problem in the world with a forecasting algorithm.


  7. jmoney
    May 26, 2016 at 1:31 am

    Obligatory xkcd (one of the corollaries of some fundamental theorem of big data that I just made up is that there will always be at one least xkcd obligatory): https://xkcd.com/1138/.

    And just for some extra introspective banality: https://xkcd.com/552/, which reminds me that well into my undergraduate education as a double physics and math major even, I had fecklessly resigned my expectations of statistics and probability to empirical heuristics. That’s when I had my first probability class taught by a real mathematician and learned that, yes, even probability is constructed from a basis network of formal theorems.


  8. May 26, 2016 at 2:10 am

    the facial personality profiling is awful but at the same time my husband is a pro poker player and that image looks an awful lot like him. maybe they mined his pictures. :O


  9. May 27, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I want to see the “brand promoter.” Anyway, my guess is that the problem is the same one that plagues legit screening (e.g., mammograms): false positives when the prior probability is very low. (FWIW I blogged it here.


  10. Yiftach
    May 27, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    The guy on the right, isn’t it The Edge?


  1. June 1, 2016 at 8:14 am
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