Within a few years, you will happily reveal the most intimate details about yourself to your favourite websites.In exchange you’ll get a hot love life and cool stuff magically showing up at your door without having to click anything.
It’s a compelling picture of the future painted by Andreas Weigend, the famed inventor of Amazon’s recommendation engine. Weigend is one of the world’s authorities on social media and consumer behaviour. He even teaches classes on this stuff at Stanford.
Business Insider recently talked to Weigend to ask him about two new trends: companies using social media/big data to predict the behaviour, and consumers sharing their data for their own profit.
- It’s easy for companies to predict what you’ll do.
- Companies don’t have to be sneaky to collect data on you — you’ll be willing to share it.
- Dating sites have become masters at predicting this kind of stuff.
- Next up is something he calls “zero-click shopping” — meaning that you’ll buy stuff automatically, without going online to shop for it.
Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation.
Business Insider: Companies today are collecting enormous amounts of data on people to predict what people will do. How does it work?
Andreas Weigend: People are way more predictable than they think they are. I worked at Match.com a few years ago, and I was also on the board of Skout, a dating app. It is surprising how good the models are on who you will actually click on. Most people are more narrow in their preferences in the dating space than they admit to themselves.
BI: How does predicting behaviour work in other cases?
AW: Among the things I learned when I was chief scientist at Amazon.com is the power of modelling the situation somebody’s in.
For instance, you buy a pair of socks for your grandma so she keeps warm, it really doesn’t matter if they are the most fashionable socks. But if you are buying socks for a date with someone new, it doesn’t matter that they are warm or if they keep for more than one wash.
In this world of social data, we can infer so much more about the situation someone is in. By knowing their geolocation, by knowing their last update on Facebook or Twitter, et cetera, we can do a much better job of understanding the situation.
BI: So this means that if I view myself as a hippie, or a conservative, I’ll make certain, predictable choices, and that’s as true for the stuff I buy as it is for the people I’ll date?
BI: But a lot of people are freaked out about privacy. Won’t there be a backlash?
AW: There has been a shift. Collecting, storing, processing data — that is all commodity. Where the successful people are is whether they create incentives that entice people to actually share data. That’s a different paradigm from [asking] “How do we sniff the digital exhaust?”
Take your favourite dating app. It’s all about matching. It’s about the social data saying if I’m interesting in a quick hook-up, or a long-term social relationship. I share this in the hope that I will have a more successful match than if I kept it secret.
BI: We’re at the early stages of this kind of big data. How will this play out in few years?
AW: I call it zero-click shopping. Remember Amazon’s 1-Click? We know that you want it. So we don’t even have to ask you anymore.
That means you don’t have to worry about sending your data. They will extract for you. All you have to do is share.
I share my calendar with the world, on my website. So if that’s of interest to you, [you can find] me at an airport. I’ve had this happen in several countries. I landed in Portland, Ore., and as I turned my phone on, it was ringing. Someone said, “You don’t know me, but I saw your schedule and I’d like to give you a ride from the airport to wherever you are going.”
I have a similar story in Germany where someone gave me a ride. They said, “We get free time in the car and you don’t have to worry about parking.”