“Big data,” as it has been dubbed by researchers, has become so valuable that the World Economic Forum, in a report published last year, deemed it a new class of economic asset, like oil…

Wall Street is all about information advantage. Every little bit could mean the difference between a bonanza or a devastating loss, and so big data is being fed into computers to power high-frequency trading algorithms — and directly to traders in every way imaginable.

Hedge funds are experimenting with scanning comments on Amazon product pages to try to predict sales. Banks are tallying job listings on Monster as an indicator of hiring. Investment firms are conducting computer analyses of the financial statements of public companies to search for signs of a bankruptcy.

Why wait for the government to release official numbers on auto sales, home sales and retail sales when the trends could be gleaned weeks or even months earlier by analyzing publicly available data online?