Home > Disruptive Change, Technologies and Science > Big Data and YOU: The Promises and the Concerns

Big Data and YOU: The Promises and the Concerns

by Carol L. Fatuzzo and Ennio Fatuzzo

 

BACKGROUND

Web surveillanceIn our book “Creating New Superstars” (1) and in a previous blog, we focused on Big Data and Business. Now we take a brief look at the more personal side of Big Data: the reality, the promises, and the concerns.

As you must be aware, today vast quantities of data about people (including you) and their interactions with the outside world are being accumulated at unprecedented rates and stored in digital form. This rapidly increasing, already huge, storehouse of personal information is part of what is known as “Big Data.”

Where is this personal information coming from? Everything we do online, such as shopping and banking, leaves a record. But there are a growing number of other sources: social media, google, smartphones and other smart devices, electronic medical records, military and government data bases, surveillance cameras, and much more.

Collecting and storing personal Big Data digitally has become easy and is pervasive, but it is only the beginning. For this vast amount of information to be useful, there must be the ability to access the data rapidly and reliably; and there must be tools that can quickly analyze an immense amount of seemingly unrelated information, and make useful connections. And all of this is now reality. Faster and more powerful computers coupled with software advances (e.g., “artificial intelligence”) are rapidly opening doors to new analytic capabilities.

USES OF PERSONAL BIG DATA

Many large companies and organizations already have access to the growing collection of personal Big Data and are taking advantage of the advanced analytic capabilities. Common examples are targeted marketing and credit checks. And this is only the beginning. There are many less obvious ways personal Big Data is starting to impact your everyday life, including tracking your physical activities and location and even determining choices offered to you in bars and restaurants (2, 3).

Another growing use of Big Data is in sports. Not only individual players’ moves, but entire game strategies can be analyzed to improve players’ performances and/or game strategies. And then there are the fans. Analyzing fan generated Big Data is leading to techniques for generating stronger fan support and providing extra (and more profitable) event-based services. (4)

Then there is the healthcare segment. Here collection and analysis of personal Big Data is already leading to major advances such as improvements in healthcare outcomes (including saving lives), remote patient monitoring and real-time alerting, more cost-effective treatments, programs to prevents opioid abuse, accelerating cancer research, providing access to the latest treatments being tested, and much more. (5,6)

What we have described so far is only the beginning. To repeat, sources of personal Big Data are exploding (GPS tracking, wellness monitoring, surveillance of financial transactions, facial recognition, education records….) as are the capabilities for sophisticated analysis and uses for this data. And yes, the collection and use of personal Big Data has many positives. There is no question that the future benefits arising from the combination of big data and advanced analytics will be immense.

THE CONCERNS

But there is a downside. As summarized by McKinsey and Company: “Privacy issues will continue to be a major concern. Although new computer programs can readily remove names and other personal information from records being transported into large databases, stakeholders across the industry must be vigilant and watch for potential problems as more information becomes public.” (5)

But there is an even more serious concern. So far, we have focused on the use of personal Big Data by businesses and other private or public organizations. It is an entirely different situation when governments enter the arena. A number of articles have raised the concern about Big Data in the hands of government evolving into “Big Brother.” Following we repeat one example of this from our January blog “Big Data: An Exploding Agent of Change.”

Recent articles have focused on a data collection and analysis project being run by the Chinese communist party to develop what they call a “social-credit system.” (7, 8) To summarize, using Big Data technologies, the project’s objective is to develop a system to collect and categorize as “good” or “bad” all available information for each individual citizen. Ultimately, rewards for good behavior (e.g., prizes, better housing) and punishments for bad behavior (e.g., denial of permissions to travel or access to loans and services) would be handed out—all this aimed at improving the allegiance of citizens to the State.

Will China be successful? How far will other governments go towards using Big Data to become “Big Brother” watching over each citizen? Certainly, these are valid concerns. And for those who watch the Television series “A Person of Interest,” it may occur to them that the project described above is much more dangerous than the situation portrayed by the TV series. The latter only monitors each person in real time, but the Chinese scenario not only does this but also builds a history of everything each citizen has done and uses that information for its own purposes.

Yes, the growing availability and use of personal Big Data presents serious concerns. However, keep in mind that every breakthrough new technology has the potential for both good and bad. It all depends on the intentions of those who develop and apply the technology.


 

REFERENCES

1. Ennio Fatuzzo and Carol L. Fatuzzo, Creating New Superstars: A Guide to Businesses that Soar above the Sea of Normality (USA: September 2016). Available for purchase from amazon: http://amzn.to/2hAn6dy.

2. “Big Data in Our Everyday Life,” February 10, 2017, Nordic-IT, https://nordic-it.com/big-data-everyday-life/

3. Mona Lebied, “5 Big Data Examples in Your Real Life At Bars, Restaurants, and Casinos,” Business Intelligence, May 4th 2017, http://www.datapine.com/blog/big-data-examples-in-real-life/

4. “Big Data in Sports: Going for the Gold,” inside BIGDATA, June 4, 2017, https://insidebigdata.com/2017/06/04/big-data-sports-going-gold/

5. Basel Kayyali, David Knott, and Steve Van Kuiken, “The Big-Data Revolution in US Health Care: Accelerating Value and Innovation,” McKinsey & Company, http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/the-big-data-revolution-in-us-health-care

6. Mona Lebied, “9 Examples of Big Data Analytics in Healthcare that can Save People, Business Intelligence, May 24th 2017, http://www.datapine.com/blog/big-data-examples-in-healthcare/

7. Jamie Condliffe, “China Turns Big Data into Big Brother,” MIT Technology Review, November 29, 2016, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602987/china-turns-big-data-into-big-brother/

8. “China invents the digital totalitarian state: The worrying implications of its social-credit project,” The Economist, December 17, 2016, https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21711902-worrying-implications-its-social-credit-project-china-invents-digital-totalitarian

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