Friday, September 06, 2013

Datashock and Awe

I've had a lot of datashock recently. Datashock?  Why that's what you fell when you're hit with data that contradicts everything you took for granted about yourself.  I recently had a DNA test for instance, expecting that it would reflect the generations of genealogical data I'd been putting together for years and going back centuries.  Imagine the surprise to find that I'm half Scandinavian.

But that's nothing compared to what I found out.  You know that mysterious database used by every hardware and ladies' underwear marketer to send you catalogs and interrupt your most private moments with phone calls?  An article in CNN Money this morning had me laughing about the errors in her publicly disseminated information the reporter found when she went to . I stopped laughing when I checked my own information.

I've been running a long and angry battle with companies like Experian to remove erroneous data from my credit report: 'aliases' that originated in clumsy data entry and became irrevocably enshrined, addresses I've never heard of, addresses that never existed, household members long dead and other items likely to follow me to the grave before Experian ever takes the time or makes the effort to look into revising the Gospel. It's the same story with various web sites that claim to have data about me and my house and other things. The stock answer to my assertions is that "Sir, we get our data from public records and they cannot be changed." Thus spake Zarathustra.

But that's nothing. AboutTheData  asserts, despite evidence to the contrary, that I'm 93 years old, have no children and my DNA and birth certificate be damned, I'm German.  Of course they know my credit cards and everything I have ever purchased with them.  they know the size of my house and what it's worth and what I payed for it and when it was built, but they also insist that I have a large mortgage on it which I don't.

This is the kind of data that affects one's life, one's well being, one's credibility and for the most part it's immutable, unchangeable, ineradicable. Now unlike the other people search sites like, AboutTheData does allow one to edit this farcical farrago of  data, although I'm tempted to let them think I'm 93. I'm tempted to tell them I'm dead actually, although I now understand why my mailbox is full every morning with prepaid funeral fliers, ads for nursing homes, walk-in bathtubs, home nursing services, motorized wheelchairs and crematoriums. (It would be nice if the IRS thought so, but I'm sure they have their own databases. )

But it's still a shock to think about how we assume, living in an "information age,"  that the information about your age is true, but it seems more and more that no one has any interest in correcting mistakes or even hearing about the ocean of ludicrous errors they spend so much money and bandwidth maintaining against the unheard protests of a baffled, astounded and rightly pissed-off public.

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