Cloud News & Insights

Cloud Computing and Big Data – Predicting Pregnancy in Customers!

Colleagues discussing a performance graph

When you collect big data, there can really be a number of of ethical issues involved with its management. While these are not related to the technical aspects of handling big data, these ethical issues can be even more difficult to handle than the technical issues.

Look for example at what the New York Times published on February 16, 2012. You can find the article at this link and it gives out in graphic detail how complex the ethical issues with big data can be.

Target, as many of us are aware, is a very large chain of stores and stocks a very large range of stuff from electronics to toys and furniture and a large number of other objects of daily use. What Target has found is that many customers come to it primarily for cleaning supplies and over time, they have come to associate the stores with this line of goods. This is a habit that clients have developed and it is not easy to change.

Breaking habits is not easy but there are times when this can be done. Approaching childbirth is one such time. Target apparently discovered that during this critical and unsettled period in a woman’s life, it was possible to change purchasing habits and associate Target with all other household goods besides only cleaning supplies.

The way to do this was through analysis of big data. A very qualified statistician at the chain told The New York Times that every customer is given a unique guest ID and based on this ID, the store knows everything possible about the purchasing behavior of the client. The researcher went through very detailed listings of purchasing patterns of tens of thousands of shoppers and compared the data with the lists of shoppers who had willingly disclosed their pregnancy in a ‘baby shower register’. Analysts found that women in the second trimester of their pregnancy began to buy extra large quantities of unscented lotion, hand sanitizers and cotton balls.

The data collected could even begin to predict the date of the client’s delivery and therefore the company began to take advantage of this ‘knowledge’ by sending her a lot of specifically directed advertisements and coupons for baby care products and related items.

This kind of capability must have netted Target millions in additional sales. And I am sure that Target is not the only company that is collecting and analyzing this type of big data to improve their bottom line.

This much data gathering, storage and management needs to be hosted in a fully secured facility both physical and virtual. One thing to say about this store chain is that its locations play a major factor, since there will be multiple sources of data going to one central repository. One example is GMO Cloud, which has a multi-level security strategy that meets large quantity requirements.

Going back, two issues emerge. This kind of data collection and analysis is only possible using the cloud, because it is only the cloud that permits the collection and manipulation of really large quantities of data. The second point to make is whether such analysis is really something ethical or does it represent a gross violation of individual privacy?

This article is not about the ethical issues involved but about the capabilities that cloud computing can give your company. If you can add up the millions of bit of data you have about your customers and analyze it carefully, you may get insights that never dreamt were possible.

What do you feel about this? Are there any issues you want to flag? Do you think this kind of analysis is correct or ethical or legal?

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About the Guest Author:

Sanjay SrivastavaSanjay Srivastava has been active in computing infrastructure and has participated in major projects on cloud computing, networking, VoIP and in creation of applications running over distributed databases. Due to a military background, his focus has always been on stability and availability of infrastructure. Sanjay was the Director of Information Technology in a major enterprise and managed the transition from legacy software to fully networked operations using private cloud infrastructure. He now writes extensively on cloud computing and networking and is about to move to his farm in Central India where he plans to use cloud computing and modern technology to improve the lives of rural folk in India.

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