Book Review: What Stays in Vegas

Personal data has become ubiquitous in the Internet age. This information helps personalize our online and offline experiences, but, as with all unsecured data, it can be used for more nefarious deeds. Adam Tanner, the author, recommends managing our data moving forward, as it is impossible to not generate a footprint in the current environment. But how did our personal data become so valuable to companies?

Perhaps it was fortuitous timing, but the book, What Stays in Vegas, was published a few months before its first character, Gary Loveman, announced he would leaving his CEO position from Caesars. However, the narrative is much bigger than Mr. Loveman; it is a story of our personal data being collected and used by corporations, governments, and neighbors. It does, however, start with him.

Data collection and usage began in a very logical place: Las Vegas. In a town so focused on numbers and odds, it became a perfect scenario to test a Harvard professor’s thesis on customer (casino) loyalty. Loveman joined Harrah’s and, with the development of customer loyalty points, turned around a failing casino’s business in a few years. Slot machines became the money makers, and the top 0.5% gamblers make up a significant share of the revenue.

But this book, despite its title, focuses on a much broader issue of personal data. As with any new trend, the legal framework had to be tested and adapted to its new usage, and businesses went from getting the stupid money to more transparent companies (i.e. those websites that aggregate people’s background and mugshots). But Adam’s point is this: our personal data is being aggregate, and it is public enough that anyone can view or use it. The last chapter belabors the value of managing our personal data rather than trying to run from it. Much like what we decide to wear, we will be judged (and subsequently advertised to) based on what our data shows. Actions speak louder than words, after all.

Adam makes a good attempt at humanizing the story of numbers while leaving in a few good points. What used to take huge human organizations can be streamlined to data centers and analytics, and our behavior is noted, saved, and sold wholesale. There is a balance that can be achieved here; I don’t encourage staying off online social networks, as it is the social norm to have at least a Facebook and a LinkedIn, but we can choose what information to disclose. For businesses using data, it is no longer a competitive edge, as tools for storing and analyzing data has become increasingly prolific. Data is the not the holy grail; it still has to be employed within a broader strategy. Despite its early edge in data analysis, Caesar’s is now facing bankruptcy because it failed to capitalize on being one of the first 3 foreign corporations on entering Macau (to be fair, each license was roughly $1 billion). In the end, data has become a measuring tool like anything else, but we have to treat it as something to be managed in both a personal and corporate setting.

Link: http://www.amazon.com/What-Stays-Vegas-Personal-Lifeblood/dp/1610394186

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