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Illustration by Andy Smith

A Convenient Truth

The big data boom is going to make life much, much easier. (And a wee bit creepier.)

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Imagine you’ve ordered a sandwich through your favorite fast-casual restaurant’s app. The moment you pull up, a visored employee hands you a takeout bag and cheerfully informs you that she held the cheese—even though you forgot to mention you’re lactose intolerant. No, she’s not stalking you; her company uses Norm, new software from Denver startup HyprLoco. Launching in Colorado this winter, Norm—with your permission—analyzes your past purchases, social media accounts, and location to make your dining experiences more intelligent.

This might sound like science fiction, but it’s the new reality. “We’re spewing data at rates that haven’t existed, because we’re all walking around with super computers in our pockets,” says Chris Moody, CEO of Boulder’s Gnip. Started in 2008, Gnip mines the Twitterverse to cull information about people, places, and products. Maybe you’re an investor wondering whether to ditch your Apple stock; Gnip provides the data that’ll show you how many people tweeted about the launch of the iPhone 6 compared with the launch of the iPhone 7. A dramatic dip in “impressions”—tweets, retweets, likes—might be an early indicator that Apple is poised for a plunge.

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An increasing number of companies around the world are able to make sense of big data because the technology needed to process massive amounts of digital info is growing cheaper every year. With the Denver metro area boasting one of the best environments in the country for startups, ripples from the data explosion are being felt across the Front Range. “I can’t say the startup boom would not have happened at all without big data,” says Dan Lynn, co-founder of Denver’s FullContact, an address book app that fills in your contacts by rifling through your email and phone history, “but it’s an accelerant.” Even the Colorado Department of Transportation has jumped aboard: CDOT partners with Denver startup Place Global, which will soon use Bluetooth beacons, cell towers, and GPS to send information to the phones of motorists who’d appreciate a heads-up about that lane closure ahead of them on I-70.

Is it creepy that companies are going all NSA on their customers? Sure. Does that seem to matter? Nope. In 2014, Oracle bought Datalogix, a Denver data-collection company, for $1.2 billion. That same year, Twitter spent $134 million to purchase Gnip. In other words, companies are betting that when it comes to navigating everyday life, customers will value convenience over privacy.

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