Cory Doctorow talking about the diminishing returns of big data.

He’s mostly covering advertising here. That is, the indicators that highly-targeted advertising–based on things like your Facebook profile or Google searches–while effective in the early years, have now hit the point where consumers are just as inured to their “charms” as they are to every other form of advertising.

Doctorow also stretches this comparison to intelligence, asserting that because big data-based spying has had a number of failures, they the “spy everywhere, all the time” rhetoric should be abandoned. While I agree ideologically, I think Doctorow’s “big data advertising doesn’t work therefore neither does big data spying” jump is… a bit of a reach.

The reality is the entire notion of big data comes from the intelligence agencies; they’ve been doing it way longer than the social media and search dot-coms have been. It’s everyone else who’s playing catch-up. And yes, there’ve been massive failures; these are the things we hear about. But most of the smaller successes we don’t hear about are also based on big data intelligence. So… yeah.

Doctorow’s agenda is a nice one, and I don’t disagree with it; the surveillance state is scary. But the entire reason it’s scary is because the data collected is useful. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be.

Basically, you can’t have this one both ways.