Big Data Innovation, Issue 27

Where we look at whether big data has become too powerful


Welcome to issue 27 of Big Data Innovation.

Data has been taking a beating over the past 12 months. We have seen it dragged through the mud on multiple occasions, from its questionable use in elections through to Google accidentally using it to advertise on controversial websites. When we look at what is generally creating the headlines around it the context is almost always negative.

This could simply be to do with negative headlines generally getting more clicks, but it has the potential to do real damage to something that has an almost unquantifiable potential for good in the world.

We have seen it being used to help with conservation and disaster relief, while on a very localized level, it helps people to use transport effectively and allows them to perform better in their job. The big issue that data has in terms of selling its image is simply that most of the uses for it go unnoticed because they aren’t meant to be noticed.

When somebody orders an Uber and it arrives within 5 minutes, they think ‘this app works well’ but there is little appreciation of the underlying data that has allowed it to happen. When somebody has a suggested item on an e-commerce site, they think ‘I like that product’ but there is no thought around the development of data that has allowed an algorithm to pinpoint the perfect product from their previous activity.

It is the single biggest challenge that data faces - showing the impact it has on everybody’s life. The difficulty is that we’ve hidden it behind beautifully designed websites and apps, so people don’t see it. It is like the service corridors of hotels and restaurants; people don’t see them, but without them the establishments would not be able to work. The difficulty here is that we need to make it more obvious that data is having a positive impact on somebody’s life.

People do not mind something that benefits them if they sacrifice something relatively small to access it, but if they cannot see the benefit because it is hidden behind something that looks nicer, then it is difficult for them to understand that data has driven the action they require. Uber needs your location data, Amazon looks at your purchase history, Youtube analyzes your viewing history, apps use your Facebook data so you can avoid creating a new account to login, but the underlying data is hidden from site.

It certainly wouldn’t be wise to suddenly reveal all of this to consumers, but as a community it needs to be made clearer that data isn’t just a hack or a mistake in advertising strategies, it’s the millions of things that people can do today that genuinely makes their lives a little easier and more connected. 

Looking small

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