Insurance and the orgin of big data
Between the ledger and the computer was the card index - the basis of the mass commodification of personal insurance

Bouk, Dan

Publisher:  Le Monde diplomatique
Date Written:  01/11/2015
Year Published:  2015  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21919

A historical look at the origins of 'Big Data' and the collection of personal information by corporate America in the early 20th century.



The American insurance firm New York Life has a photograph taken in 1903 showing women in crisp white blouses tending steel index card files, while black-suited men sit at their desks reviewing stacks of paper. The image highlights an often forgotten aspect of the business — that insurers control stores of personal data just as important in size and value as their cash reserves. We think of this in the context of recent cyberattacks (many of us have had files stolen from health insurer databases ), yet insurers' reliance on stockpiling personal data has a much longer history. Studying it reveals an important precursor of big data.
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