How ‘Big Data’ is impacting business and personal privacy, Part I

People generate over 2.5 quintillion bytes every day

The world’s data Is doubling every 1.2 years

The numbers are staggering: according to one estimate, there are 4.5 billion cell phone users out of a world population of 7 billion people. Even more revolutionary for our global culture is the exploding number of smart phone users, already at 1.75 billion. Though some estimates are lower, this trend is both astounding and seemingly irreversible.

Compiling statistics for all digital devices, every day we send over 11 billion text messages, watch over 2.8 billion YouTube videos, and perform almost 5 billion Google searches. People generate over 2.5 quintillion bytes every day from consumer transactions, communication devices, online interaction, and streaming services. One estimate is that by 2020, the world’s total information will be over 35 trillion gigabytes (from approximately 4 trillion gigabytes in 2014).



Businesses know what you click/like

The Big Data analytics train has already left the station. This has many ramifications, including, for example, businesses mining consumer data to refine and improve online demographic targeting. Most of us have had the experience of searching through an online catalogue, not even buying anything, and within seconds visiting a completely unrelated site with ads from the same company for similar products.

If we’re going to have ads thrust at us, isn’t it preferable that we can relate to them? Most consumers, especially Millennials, would agree. Yet some websites have taken advantage of customers by, for example, increasing the price for a product or service that they’ve previously shown interest in.

Which raises some basic questions…

  • What are the underlying intentions of individual data collectors?
  • Who among the data keepers have exhibited patterns of exploitation or abuse?
  • Who can see what data, when, and why?
  • What are the benefits, if any, for the end user?
  • Can the user/consumer opt-out of various monitoring programs?
  • Who, if anyone, is policing the marketers to ensure that the consumer is protected?
  • What, if any, rules are there to protect us? How viable/enforceable are such rules?
  • When abuses emerge, is there a reliable system for improving the rules to counter them?
  • How long is data held and to whose benefit does that accrue?
  • At what point does protective surveillance endanger our rights as citizens?

In next week’s OWDT blog, How Big Data is Impacting Business and Personal Privacy, Part II, we’ll take a closer look at the present and emerging benefits vs. many (highly publicized) downsides of Big Data in the private and public sectors.

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