How many times have you noticed advertisements relevant to your recent search on your favourite search engine show up on your browser? I guess the answer will be “every time”. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo etc. track user’s location and browsing data to show relevant advertisements. Now that they have your data, what stops them from using that data for purposes other than advertising? Nothing (except for few privacy laws)!
It is no doubt that the search engine giant has enough data available to profile everyone depending upon their interests and search patterns combined with other publicly available information to guess who the person really is. But what about others, the people without access to Google’s big data regarding its users? They can do some exciting things too, even when it comes to profiling the kind of people who are interested in the pseudonymous digital currencies like Bitcoin and that’s exactly what a couple of researchers did recently.
Bitcoin is known for the anonymous nature of transactions. Even though Bitcoin transactions can be tracked easily, the identity of the person or people who are parties to the transactions usually remains undisclosed. Then how did these two researchers identify a Bitcoin user’s profile? Well, they used Google, or Google Trends data to be more specific.
These University of Kentucky duo – Dr. Aaron Yelowitz and Matthew Wilson conducted statistical analysis of Google Trends data to find the pattern. Upon analysing the data they have found that people who do computer programming, criminal activity and Silk Road related searches are more likely to be Bitcoin users. They have published this study in a report titled “Characteristics of Bitcoin Users: An Analysis of Google Search Data”. The researchers make it clear that the results of this study is not a conclusive and they are not looking at the actual Bitcoin usage but just the search interests on Google.
As a part of this study, they considered four different interest groups (user profiles) commonly associated with Bitcoin – Computer programming enthusiasts, speculative investors, libertarians and criminals to find which of these groups have a positive correlation to Bitcoin usage. After eliminating potential false positives due to real world events that garnered lot of public interest from the timeline, they concluded that computer programming enthusiasts and criminals exhibit a positive correlation to Bitcoin usage. Speculative investors and libertarians figured pretty low in the list of Bitcoin user profiles.
Even though this research succeeds in profiling likely Bitcoin users, the data doesn’t differentiate between those who are just curious to know about Bitcoin and those who were exploring the possibility of using Bitcoin or already using Bitcoin.