Is Big Data a Good Thing?

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Big Data is a crazy reality that we have created with society’s many digital input devices, from street cameras to the common smartphone (sorry, Trekkies). There is so much data available that computing algorithms are needed to extrapolate and contextualize the information. Companies are actively looking at ways to mine and extrapolate Big Data for analytics and market use.

McKinsey & Company’s Business Technology Office says Big Data will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus. The report goes on to list five ways Big Data can be used by companies and nonprofits:

1) Big Data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency.

2) Organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance.

3) Big Data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services.

4) Sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision making.

5) Big Data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services.

Given the incredible amounts of data available about people, will companies abuse the data to take advantage of people and society in general? This is a tough issue because generally, Big Data will improve our ability to serve each other with better, more qualitative information, product and service offerings. Semantic information is already making search infinitely better.

However, there will be repercussions including further polarization and perhaps an unhappy realization of the picture that Big Data shows of ourselves as a society. Society may not be ready to see itself in the mirror.

Further, the continuing trials of Facebook illustrate just how serious of an issue Big Data has become. Facebook’s consistent use of user data to benefit its corporate customers in the face of privacy has triggered investigation requests to the FTC, and continues to get exposed by the media. Yet Facebook continues its practices in the face of media protests and potential lawsuits or worse.

For every Facebook that data issues become well known (and the company suspect), there are dozens who get away with Big Data abuses, oft under the radar. Really, in every technology, in every sector, there are abuses. Big Data is and will always be no different.

Will we accept Big Data’s negatives as a trade off for better results. Or do we even have a choice? What do you think?