Big data lay at the heart of the subprime mortgage and overall financial meltdown the nation suffered at the end of the last decade. Data crunchers were key to manipulating financial markets and securities throughout the financial industry and big data platforms were critical parts of the marketing machine that pushed subprime financial products out to the most vulnerable members of the American public.
In fact, by the mid-2000s, the lion’s share of the online advertising economy was being driven by subprime and related mortgage lenders. As Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said back in 2007 "Many online companies depend for a disproportionate amount of their income on financial services advertising, with subprime in some cases accounting for a large part of it."[i] As the subprime frenzy was hitting its height that year, a July 2007 Nielsen/Netratings survey of online display advertisers showed that the top five of those advertisers were all involved in the mortgage lending industry to some extent, delivering almost $200 million in monthly revenue to online advertising companies like Google, MSN, and Yahoo! [ii] These delivered hundreds of billions of views of online ads that helped drive the frenzy of refinancing and subprime mortgages with ads like the ubiquitous “LowerMyBills” and other online enticements. These numbers are only for display ads online; search advertisers don’t share data on specific revenue from particular companies, but reports at the time showed that mortgage loan companies were paying top dollar for keywords like “mortgage” and “refinance” with prices going for as much as $20 to $30 each time a user clicked on a search ad.[iii]