Dangerous Data

Some time ago (i.e., when I was posting a bit more consistently than this erratic, once-every-three-months schedule I'm currently on) I made a short point about Waze proving that bad data is worse than no data. Kudos to Waze for dominating the gamification, well, game. They've got every driver on the road eager to pick up magic internet points by logging every last thing they see.

Keep that phrase in mind -- bad data is worse than no data. The smartest man at Microsoft* used to say that regularly, and his point was that bad data leads to bad information, which leads to bad decisions.

Bad data doesn’t necessarily spring from a bad idea. We need customer satisfaction data, however, we need it to be GOOD customer satisfaction data. Dangerous data is a different animal:

  • Regardless of accuracy, the data has little or no decision making value.

  • Collection and/or use of the data encourages bad behaviors.

Once again, our friends at Waze have built that exact scenario.

Some time ago Waze added a new type of hazard notification. I'm not sure when this happened; despite the aforementioned mastery of gamification, Waze hasn't convinced me to care about magic internet points.** Hence, I don't really know when logging roadkill became a thing.

That's right, roadkill. When you see that poor squirrel or possum flattened on the road, you can alert every other drive to the presence of entrails and blood.

Maybe that seems innocuous, a little macabre at worst. But think about it -- logging and reading this data are both distracting actions. When you're barreling down the interstate at 70 miles per hour, taking a hand off the wheel to memorialize a dead armadillo is an unsafe practice that produces exactly zero benefit.*** The next driver is already distracted by the kids in the backseat, the Big 80's countdown, and his thoughts about what happened last night on Game of Thrones. The last thing that guy needs is a superfluous alert from his phone.

Unless that's a dead moose**** in the road, drivers don't need a heads-up. And that leads us back to behaviors -- when that logging action IS warranted, Waze should want the driver's eyes off the road for as short a time as possible. A single "hazard" option is enough to warn other drivers. It's enough to know that something sizable enough to be threatening is ahead; we don't need the other driver navigating through three screens to  classify the hazard so thoroughly as to make Quentin Wheeler jealous.

To be fair, I've not read of any accidents nor deaths attributed to Waze's roadkill notifications, and I hope I never do. But whether you're driving down I-35 or building a business process, you're better off addressing dangerous practices before the catastrophe happens.

*New to my blog? The smartest man at Microsoft was my first manager, the brilliant fellow who hired me into the company.

**My addiction is reserved for Minecraft, which I don't play while driving.

***Except, of course, that you earn a magic internet point.

****Or a live chupacabra. I always want to know about chupacabra sightings.

*****Quentin Wheeler, the most famous, modern-day taxonomist. Seriously, look him up.