News & Blog

A Crash Course in Data Exhaust

By Francis West on 19th May 2016

Just as in our offline ‘real’ life we generate by-products of everyday living in the ‘real’ world such as the waste products, gasses and smoke from our homes, workplaces, and vehicles, we also generate by-products in our online life.

These things may be the files generated by web browsers and their plug-ins like cookies, log files, temporary internet files and flash cookies. These things all hang around on our computers and other IoT (Internet of 'Things') devices. Other information or digital by-products in the workplace can be secondary, non-critical information that is related to our products and services, and these too are stored on our servers, databases, and computers.

If you haven’t heard the term in the decade that it’s been around, these digital by-product things have been dubbed ‘data exhaust’.

How Big?

A recent Computer Weekly Article tried to describe some of the key facts about ‘data exhaust’ to us, one of which was the size / scale of it. It used the example of Google which collects all the data it can without yet having a primary use for it.

Data exhaust is therefore bigger than what’s become known as ‘Big Data’ i.e. it’s too big to work with it record by record.

Some of It Could Be Useful

Some of the secondary data that is collected about products and services e.g. statistics could be used to help in marketing of those products and services. Data exhaust can therefore be very useful and could be used in future to add value to your products and services.

Some of It May Never Be Useful

There is a balance to be struck between keeping potentially transformative exhaust and simply building up a vast amount of useless data into a ‘data swamp’.

Customers May Not Like You Using It

Just because you have stored a great deal of data about your customers or subscribers and their online behaviour, it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate or wise to use it all. Using certain types of data could result in negative PR and could negatively affect your marketing and customer relations.

What Does This Mean For Your Company?

Rather than just collecting everything, your company should make decisions along the way about what data is most likely to be useful, and what data is simply clutter. This could involve consulting with the employees closest to the core business and most in touch with the data as this could help you decide what can and should be thrown away.

Companies may also want to take legal advice about what data can be used and in what way.

Building up a store of data will also require scalable storage.

There is also the need to make sure that all of the data you collect is secure and protected from potentially costly data breaches.