- Kim Hart
- Sep 27
The most valuable data tech companies collect about you
Innocuous data points can be combined to derive a revealing look at your life. Photo: Manu Fernandez / AP
The privacy debate tends to focus on how big companies handle "private" information like Social Security Numbers, credit histories, financial transactions and medical records—tangible info that can easily be used to get a peek at your life.
Intimate data: But according to University of Pennsylvania computer science professor Michael Kearns, the most valuable data is "intimate" data.
- That includes opinions, attitudes, beliefs and moods that aren't written down anywhere, but can be inferred from your online behavior — the posts you like on Facebook, the photos you share, the videos you watch, the items you buy on Amazon, your search queries, your location, etc.
- Advances in machine learning, deep learning and neural networks is making it easier to see patterns across raw data. That means otherwise innocuous data points can be combined to derive a revealing look at your life.
- "The most valuable data can't be measured in bits," Kearns said Tuesday at an AT&T-hosted privacy event in DC. Companies that have access to this information "can make all kinds of inferences about you and your life circumstances that you may not even know yourself."