When information aggregation scares and baffles me…

I’ve been around the block. I am familiar with most of the ways companies and web sites track data. I am familiar with aggregation techniques, know the real value of the most ‘harmless’ things (e.g. clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook), and know the power of modern databases. In my mind it is a simple fact that computers with badass (i.e. scary) algorithms can link two people through a slew of random bits of information. When I read an article about how companies are using, linking, and aggregating this data, it is business as usual.

Today, all of that didn’t matter, as I am still trying to figure out the phone call I just received.

“Yeah is Elgin C there?” (note: they used full name)
“Uh… wrong number.” I replied, since 95% of voice calls to my cell phone are spam or wrong numbers.
“You sure you don’t know Elgin C?” This question triggered my “credit collection agency” radar.
“Well, kind of, I knew him over 20 years ago. He was my boss at a job I worked at.”

So here’s the gap I can’t figure out. When I knew Elgin, and we were friends off work as well, I did not have a cell phone with service in my name. We lost touch a year or so after I left the job as our interests / hobbies were very different. Eventually I moved out of Colorado, bounced around for work, and came back. Once back, I got a new cell phone and have had the number for going on 9 years. The only other ‘contact’ was an email I sent to his publicist (he’s an aspiring actor) asking that they pass on my email address, sent on Dec 5, 2011. The mail was from jericho@attrition, and signed ‘Brian’, no last name, no cell phone.

So how does this guy get my number associated with Elgin C? It was clear that the file he was accessing indicated we knew each other and were likely friends. After I cleared it up (by relaying some of the above), he said he wasn’t sure how the investigative team got my number but assured me it would be removed from the file.

No contact with Elgin, other than the one mail to his publicist which went unanswered, in almost 20 years. Yet somehow my current cell phone number got linked in such a way that they thought they could reach him via it, or via the person who answered it.

Color me baffled, and a bit scared, because I am either missing something not-so-obvious, or the aggregation algorithms have evolved more than I realized.

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