Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Big data 2: what data and who owns it?

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on December 21, 2012

This is my second installment in a series on an emerging capability that has become surrounded by hype, even as it has emerged as a powerfully disruptive societal force: big data. And I use the term “disruptive” there both in the sense of game changing disruptive technology and a positive, and as disruptive as in breaking down with its potential for serving as a negative. My goal in this series is to discuss the increasingly pervasive and important accumulation and use of big data and in business and in general, in tracking, understanding and influencing our individual and collective behavior (see Part 1: the emergence of the demographic of one.)

I wrote in Part 1 of the ever-increasing comprehensiveness of big data collection and aggregation, and I at least began the process of connecting this thread of discussion to related and relevant posting series that I have been developing throughout this blog. And at the end of that starting installment I raised three fundamental sets of issues:

1. What data and types of data are being accumulated here, and about whom?
2. Who owns this data? And I add, who gets to see it and use it and under what circumstances and with what restrictions and protections in place and for whom?
3. And I also raised the question of accuracy, which brings up a series of new questions.

I begin here with the first of these topic areas and note in that context that we are continually offering a torrent of data, some voluntarily and by conscious choice and some without our awareness and automatically.

• Every time we make a purchase on a credit or debit card, data is collected as to what we buy and where and in what quantities and at what price.
• If we use a discount card, as for example at a supermarket, this data is also collected for our cash purchases.
• If we fill out and submit a mail-in warranty card or provide warranty application information online we provide a wide range of personal information that is also accumulated and both for anonymized demographic level analysis and as personally identifiable information linked to us as individuals.
• This used to just mean accumulation of text and numerical data and with numerical and semi-numerical data easiest to organize, statistically analyze and use. But with pattern recognition software and the automated identification of and tagging of nonstandard data such as facial recognition, more and more comprehensive data accumulations are becoming possible – with identification of who is in all of those myriad Facebook photos uploaded by users just a part of this.
• Information is accumulated through multiple channels as to where we live and with whom.
• If we register to vote, in many cases any political party affiliation information becomes a matter of public record. And when we vote can also become publically available even if how we actually vote in those elections remains confidential.
• Here, I am assembling this partial list of types of data collected and routes for collecting it as a matter of what is available and what is collected in some and even many countries and legal jurisdictions. Many countries provide safeguards and limitations on who can collect what data and on who can access it and use it and for what. But globally, vast amounts of information are accumulated and daily and about all of us. I only began to scratch the surface of what and where, here in this bullet point list. And I have only, up to here, cited raw data collected.

Raw data collected is only the beginning for big data. This all becomes more individually and societally significant as this flood of data is organized and analyzed and patterns are found. And these analytically developed secondary findings also become part of this overall data pool.

Group demographics level analysis makes it possible to take data patterns observed and collected and use that as a basis for making behavioral predictions moving forward, and for belief and opinion and for decisions and actions likely taken.

I am going to proceed to the second numbered point above in my next series installment, and consideration of data access and use, and of data ownership and safeguards. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and also see Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page, Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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