This editorial was originally published on November 18, 2014. It is being republished as Steve has been out sick.
Data is merely a set of numbers. However when data is given context, it allows conclusions to be drawn and many of us make a living managing some part of that process every day. Most of us deal with data that is viewed as somewhat public, related to our interactions with businesses and organizations. However we see some of this changing as employers start to gather more data on us through social media and other sources, beginning to use that data to make hiring decisions.
It can get worse. As Shane Battier says in this article says, "big data is scary."
Most of us don't aren't hired for our physical performance. While our health can make a difference in how well we write code over time, the regular, subtle decisions we make on things like drinking juice or soda don't affect our performance much on a daily basis. We could argue about that, but from the employer's perspective, I'm not sure those things matter.
Or do they? If the cost of employees rises over time, especially with regard to health care or sick time, should employers start to make decisions based on the data? Are we confident in the conclusions from data, which are really probabilities, not actualities? Would you want aspects of your life, perhaps data outside of your health (think driving, finance, etc) to be part of the evaluation (or negotiation) process for your employment?
Perhaps a lighter question, would you be comfortable managing and writing applications that work with employee data and try to analyze, perhaps even strongly recommend, changes in peoples' live? I'm not sure I would, and I certainly hope we don't get to the point where the data about our personal lives directly impacts the way we are managed.