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Monday, 14 December 2015

Since user data now drives innovation...


What is big data? Many people (that I know) would say, big data is the analysis of aggregated personal data of users, especially users of websites and other electronically generated information.

So, what is big data consisted of? In short, it is the user's personal data.

Users' information may appear to be quite harmless. After all, it consists of readily available information such as names, addresses, email addresses, age, gender, affiliation, and the like. (Actually, those basics could be quite useful for a serial killer or a stalker.)

The issue runs deeper than that. A website user today provides the website's operators with rich data about his browsing habits, things that he is interested in, stuff he ignores, and information about what he is doing. (That was how the American government were able to set up a fake bank and launder money for criminals and get intimate information about criminal activity.)

When data is collected on a large scale, millions of users can be analyzed in the aggregate and useful information can be derived. Insights and trends not ordinarily available to market researchers can be obtained through statistical analysis. Those with the tools get a first look at what is going on in the world. Sight beyond sight. Foretelling the future becomes a possibility. Innovation becomes possible and profitable because of the leads that the big data is generating.

Compare the market researcher who conducts interviews and questionnaires. Information is largely self-reported and may be skewed to satisfy the researcher's requirements. With electronically generated information, you cannot self-report. There is little chance of bias. The data is generated electronically, automatically, in real time. No bias, no misleading information, and certainly no researcher-caused misinformation.

But what is the problem with that? Aren't users habits personally unidentifiable? Nobody can identify me on my habits! After all, when website owners and (in the future) devices collect my data, they promise that the information is anonymous. I will not be identifiable.

But you are mistaken. What you are doing in the app or the website is very valuable to the website operator. Not only the website operator, but also other business owners who interface with the website. Advertisers who put up online advertisements will use your cookie information in order to generate programmatically the right type of advertisements to entice you. Television and radio will also be able to identify you and give you personalized offerings and entice you further.

This means that you will be more and more vulnerable to this kind of attacks - the attack of temptation and desire!

Statistics, once the domain of the bookish, geeky and nerdish, is becoming the key to identifying trends within large sets of data. Statistics applied to large sets of data is called data mining. Through data mining, it becomes possible to anticipate new trends and emerging demands. It has become the secret weapon of choice amongst cutting edge business managers who crave innovation. Because data generated in real time can be more timely than data generated through traditional market research.

Laws regarding personal data protection will not generally protect you from business owners and operators who plan to use your data to analyze and identify new business trends. This is because many of the laws only prohibit transmission of your data to third parties. It does not prohibit the analysis of your data by companies. However if the information is sensitive and falls into the wrong hands, it could be quite devastating. Data has now become a highly prized possession which companies tend to hoard because they believe that there is monetary value in it.

The weakness is that there is no law requiring companies to delete information sitting on their websites. This is information which can be used to do time series analysis. All that is present is, at least for Europe, the right to be forgotten and the right to have your information removed from search engine results. It does not mean that the search engine company must delete the information from their database.
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