20 Great, Not-So-Great and Sometimes Scary Moments in the History of Big Data

From the Invention of UPCs and RFIDs to the Launch of the iPhone and Facebook

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1) November 1936: The U.S. government starts issuing Social Security numbers.

2) June 8, 1949: George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is first published.

Credit: Kelsey Dake

3) Some time in 1971 (the specific date is lost to history): IBM engineer George Laurer creates the Universal Product Code (UPC).

4) Jan. 23, 1973: Inventor Mario Cardullo is issued a patent for a memory-equipped passive radio transponder device -- a precursor of RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology that will allow for everything from E-ZPass tags for electronic toll collection, supply-chain management at retailers like Walmart, and the "Internet of Things," an interconnected world of billions of radio-tagged consumer products.

5) Jan. 2, 1979: Arlington, Mass.-based computer programmers Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston found Software Arts, the lead developer behind VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet computer program and the killer app that will move PCs from hobbyists' garages and dens into business offices worldwide.

6) Aug. 6, 1991: Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist working for the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, publishes on the alt.hypertext newsgroup the first public description of his World Wide Web project -- which "aims to allow all links to be made to any information anywhere."

7) Sept. 4, 1998: Larry Page and Sergey Brin incorporate Google in Menlo Park, Calif.

8) January 2002: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) creates the Information Awareness Office (IAO) to consolidate efforts at using information technology for broad "anti-terrorism" surveillance purposes. It becomes notorious for its Orwellian Total Information Awareness (TIA) system, leading Congress to technically defund the IAO, though components of the office and TIA continue to live on elsewhere in the government.

9) Feb. 4, 2004: Mark Zuckerberg launches Thefacebook.com, which later becomes Facebook, from his Harvard dorm room. Zuckerberg soon brags to a friend -- in IMs that would be leaked to Business Insider six years later -- about having ready access to the personal information of his classmates:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard.

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS.

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me."

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

10) February 2004: Photo-hosting site Flickr launches, ultimately becoming a repository for billions of personal photos from millions of users worldwide.

11) May 25, 2007: Google launches Google Street View.

12) June 29, 2007: Apple introduces the iPhone, the first blockbuster smartphone.

13) Nov. 6, 2007: Facebook launches Facebook Beacon, a controversial new system that shares user data with non-Facebook sites. Though Facebook soon shuts down Beacon in response to user outrage (including a class-action lawsuit), the data-diffusion principles and mechanisms at the core of Beacon ultimately make their way into future Facebook products and features.

14) March 11, 2009: Check-in service Foursquare launches.

15) Jan. 12, 2010: Google announces that it and more than 20 other U.S. companies have been targets of cyber attacks originating from China for purposes of, among other things, conducting surveillance on human-rights activists.

16) Feb. 9, 2010: Three Netherlands programmers -- Frank Groeneveld, Barry Borsboom and Boy van Amstel -- register the URL PleaseRobMe.com, and shortly thereafter launch a site (with the tagline "Listing all those empty homes out there") that republishes publicly available Foursquare check-ins of random people who have indicated that they're somewhere other than at their homes. (The three provocateurs later change their tagline to "Raising awareness about over-sharing.")

17) Sept. 16, 2011: The Federal Reserve issues an RFP titled "Sentiment Analysis and Social Media Monitoring Solution," asking commercial data-analytics companies for proposals on how they would monitor social media to parse sentiment about information relevant to the government, such as sentiment about the U.S. economy that could affect markets.

18) Oct. 4, 2012: Facebook hits 1 billion active users.

19) Feb. 19, 2013: Computer security firm Mandiant releases an explosive study that traces various notorious Chinese hacking groups to a 12-story building on the outskirts of Shanghai; the facility is on a Chinese army installation.

20) Fourth quarter, 2013: Google to roll out Google Glass to the consumer market.

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