Well, it didn't take long but private investigators have found the next big thing: Big Data.
Bloomberg reported on a company called IDI, who sells our data to private investigators. (link)
Unfortunately, this article is short on details and long on sensationalized catchphrases ("Every move you make. Every click you take...")
The CEO of IDI boasted that "We have data on that 21-year-old who’s living at home with mom and dad."
We really ought to be clear about what we mean by "data".
The definition of "data" is very loose. Much of this "data" are not direct records but are "model outputs."
For example, you can't measure things like how much electricity the 21-year-old in that household is using, separate from the power used by the parents. The raw data is not available, not even at the utility company. However, it is possible to create a statistical model to allocate the electricity consumption among the household members.
For a long time now, data providers have been selling businesses things like the income of individuals. Usually, the raw data come from Census records but the Census Bureau does not ever release individual data - in fact, a lot of care is taken to make sure individual incomes are not made public. Any released data are aggregated. Then, analysts build models to project the incomes at the individual (or household) level. These models are only moderately accurate.
If you are a driver, you might take notice that companies are out there taking snapshots of your license plates everywhere you go, and selling your locations. This is mentioned in the Bloomberg article. I have discussed this on this blog as well - the technology burst on the scene with Google Maps, then the police forces everywhere started using it, and now we have data companies doing the same.
One good thing about this... next time your friend tells you "I am two blocks away and will be there in 5 minutes," you can say "according to IDI, you are 20 blocks away and won't be here for another 30 minutes!"