You Can Lie – But The Data Doesn’t

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Opinion polls in the USA indicate that more than 40% of Americans attend church every week. But by examining church attendance records, a 1993 study titled “What The Polls Don’t Show: A

Closer Look At U.S. Church Attendance” concluded actual church attendance was lower than 22%.

This demonstrates the big gap between the way we perceive and identify ourselves – and the truth about our thoughts and behaviours.

Data doesn’t lie.

Data can reveal more about people than people are willing to admit about themselves.

So it’s no wonder that the top tech companies (Google, Facebook, IBM, and Apple – just to name a few) track and record your every move obsessively. Because – with enough data – they don’t just get to know the truth about you, that you keep from the world. They also get to know you better than you know yourself.

Let’s look at some of the publicly-available data that just one of these tech giants collects, and what it reveals about society at large.

As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz – author of Everybody Lies – points out, “Google is digital truth serum.”

Most Americans will say that issues of race play very little part in their decision making. But tracking Google Trends data, Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz has uncovered a very different picture.

One dataset he points to is the very early clues to Donald Trump’s eventual presidential victory, found in Google search trends during Trump’s initial primary run. These clues showed up at racist and misogynist jokes, jibes and epithets all over the USA.

Likewise – on Barack Obama’s 2008 election night – one in every 100 searches for the word “Obama” also mentioned “KKK” or the n-word. Similar spikes were seen in February 2008 (the week

Barack Obama was confirmed as the Democratic Party Nominee for President), and in January 2009 (the week of Barack Obama’s Inauguration).

But – before you get down-in-the-dumps about all this bad news, racism and negativity – take heart. The trends in the data show that the world is actually getting much, much better.

As guest editor for January 2018’s edition of Time Magazine, Bill Gates wrote:

“[Bad] events – as awful as they are – have happened in the context of a bigger, positive trend. On the whole, the world is getting better. This is not some naively optimistic view; it’s backed up by data.”

Standards of living and levels education have risen dramatically, poverty and child mortality rates have fallen dramatically, there is greater diversity among public officeholders, there are fewer wars, and minorities are better protected by laws and institutions than they were just a few decades ago.

“Big data” has given us a window into our (previously hidden) behaviours and biases – allowing them to be measured and observed.

The most exciting part of this – for me – is that once you begin testing and gathering data, you begin gaining a deeper and never-before-realised depth of understanding about your own customers: their motivations, and their deep untold thoughts – often the ones they will never admit to.

Leading this field of research has been Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre.

In 2008, researcher Michal Kosinski demonstrated how with a relatively small data set, (just a handful of Facebook likes,) you can gain a deeper understanding of someone’s personality than their friends or work colleagues.

  • Inputting 70 likes allowed the team to establish a truer prediction of your personality than your room-mate.
  • Inputting 150 likes led to a truer prediction than your parents or siblings.
  • Inputting 300 likes and the system could predict your personality and character better than your spouse.

And with enough data, you can know your customers better than they know themselves.


Note: If you’re running Google Analytics, you already have access to huge amounts of data on your customers. If you want to see the deep insights it can reveal about your customers, get in touch with me here and I’ll send you a sample report showing exactly how I analyse Google Analytics data for clients.


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