Big Data – its Purpose & Effect on Personal Privacy: What does the future hold?

As far as giant ‘technological leaps forward’ are concerned, you’re going to hard-pressed to find one as significant as the emergence of Big Data.  The truth is, Big Data has a myriad of uses or applications which it can support; including everything from predictive analysis of trends to the future of health care and even law enforcement.  In short, we’re standing on the edge of a new frontier, and past this boundary it’s possible that Big Data will be a featured component in most endeavors from this point on.

Why is Big Data so important you ask?  It’s not that Big Data is “important”, per se, its growing significance is more of a response to the increasing accumulation or build-up of information itself.  In other words, Big Data is (or was) an eventuality in many ways; something that was bound to be created by virtue of the fact that individuals, computers, servers and networks have become more “connected”.  Also, once it was discovered that collected information had specific value, the drive or need to capture more became somewhat obvious.  To put it another way, once a few people discovered that the “cow” (Big Data) was producing “milk” (value added through analysis, etc.), everyone wanted a “taste”, so to speak.

Similarly, the emergence of systems capable of moving and storing chunks of so-called “Big Data”, were created out of basic necessity.  It’s just like the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of all invention”, and the entire field of Big Data was essentially birthed because of the natural aggregation of information which we all involuntarily contributed to.   In this way, Big Data is both a problem as well as a solution – a potential source of revenue and an expression of certain technological limitations which must be overcome.

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Most people are genuinely pro-Big Data, given its many potential beneficial uses, for example.  However, when one brings up the notion that Big Data might be used to help “Big Brother” to eliminate all traces of personal freedom and informational privacy, well, you’ll see more than a few people ready to speak out.  It would be foolish to assume that such a technology will never be used for nefarious or selfish reasons; certainly some government might decide to use it to help centralize their power and authority at some point in the future.  However, it’s also irrational to run away from the technology out of fear.  Simply put, Big Data is here to stay because it offers a potential for growth and helps society deal with a potentially catastrophic “information overload”-type scenario.

Perhaps the best approach to ensuring that Big Data remains firmly planted on the side of sovereignty and freedom is to educate ourselves (and others) about it.  For instance, if more people were to become aware of how Big Data is being used, it could alter their informational habits and perhaps make them become slightly more “reserved” (with regards to how much information they share).

Naturally, those who are unaware or indifferent to Big Data and mass information accumulation won’t change their behavior in the slightest; we already see this type of thought process existing in all levels of society.  The point is, no one is putting forth any effort to hide the potential long-term effects of Big Data; clearly, it could be used by the greedy for whatever purpose.  But one has to ask oneself an important question at some point, how is this situation any different from anything else in life?  There are always going to be individuals who seek to take forms of technology and use them in an almost criminal way to either extract wealth or exercise control, right?

Since there are in fact many people who are open and aware to the possibility of Big Data being used in a negative manner, it’s entirely logical to assume that such actions can be prevented over the long-term.  In other words, it’s up to the Big Data “naysayer” to act as a watchdog and remain vigilant.  Once again, it would seem that the appropriate course of action would be to educate as many people as possible (the IT crowd in particular) about all facets of Big Data, inside and out.  Likewise, education and training in Big Data should also be explored at the level of the general population, if only in a passing manner.

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Given the fact that Big Data is really the result of the combined activities, records and information of billions of human beings, you can clearly see that it’s simply the product of interaction, an eventuality of sorts.  We’re actually quite lucky that we’ve found a way to extract further value from Big Data; just imagine the bleak prospect of hordes of data endlessly accumulating with no purpose or function, that’s the alternative.  In the midst of this struggle against a quickening buildup of information, the notion that we might be able to create additional economic growth is actually very comforting.  After all, if there were no uses for Big Data, wouldn’t it be the technological equivalent of a black hole?

Additionally, retaining personal privacy will likely become a hot topic as the use of Big Data increases.  As soon as someone discovers that you can add extra value to the sale of products or service (based on their ability to protect personal privacy), a new segment will emerge to service those customers.  In other words, when Big Data is everywhere and privacy becomes suspect, businesses will jump at the chance to offer more privacy options to their customers, especially if there’s a profit to be made in the process.

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