Everybody Lies, But Google, Big Data Often Reveal Truths

Data clearly shows people are motivated by certain real-life events, but many times not as expected. 

At least, that's what Seth Stephens-Davidowitz believes. The former Google data scientist wrote a book suggesting data can tell what people really think when they enter keywords into the search query box.

One goal of the book, "Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, And What The Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are," is to provide missing evidence of what big data reveals, according to Stephens-Davidowitz.

The power in the data from companies like Google and Bing is that people tell search engines things they might not tell anyone else. It also shows how marketers can find the "needle in the haystack." (His book focuses on data from Google, but people can find the same data via Bing.)

Stephens-Davidowitz worked as a Google data scientist and is now an op-ed contributor to The New York Times

The telescope showed mankind there is more to the outer limits of the earth than the eye can see. Now, digital data shows there is more to the human psyche than we think we see, he writes.



The Guardian ran a chapter of Stephens-Davidowitz's book in which he talks about how everyone lies. People lie to themselves. They fantasize about things they would never confide to a friend. And they under-report embarrassing behaviors in surveys.

Stephens-Davidowitz thinks Google searches get people to tell the truth. Even if you lie to yourself, Google knows the truth by the words used to search for information and the websites people visit.

In fairness, some data can be a bit misleading. Sometimes, the data confirms the obvious. Other times, people search for information out of ignorance and curiosity, rather than with the intent to do something or buy a specific product.

For example, Stephens-Davidowitz wrote a piece that ran in The New York Times titled "Liberals in Strange Places," in which he points to Montana as having the most Google searches with the words "impeach" and "Trump." The searches include "hot to impeach Trump" and "impeach Trump petition."

What he doesn't explain in the post is that those searches could suggest a need for clarity around the process.

There is a wealth of information available if you know how to find it. One day, Stephens-Davidowitz decided to download Wikipedia, because he wanted to know where the most successful Americans came from. The data included country of birth, date of birth, occupation and gender. He merged it with other data and limited it to baby boomers.

Roughly one in 2,058 American-born baby boomers were notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry. About 30% made it through achievements in art and entertainment; 29%, sports; 9%, politics; and 3% academia or science. Those findings tell you a lot about this generation and their values.

One in 1,209 baby boomers born in California had an entry in Wikipedia. One in 748 were born in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.  

1 comment about "Everybody Lies, But Google, Big Data Often Reveal Truths".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, July 13, 2017 at 6:31 p.m.

    Suppositions based on personal search histories can be tricky.  For example, if someone searches for "high-powered handguns", should we assume that they are planning to shoot their noisy neighbor, or are they trying to discover which type of handgun their neighbor is pointing in their direction? 

    More seriously, I would think that the "why" is much more important than the "where" when compiling search results, which is touched-upon in the Montana search results you mentioned. 

Next story loading loading..