Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Big data 6: accuracy and error correction from the consumer perspective

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on January 15, 2013

This is my sixth 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 (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 177 and following.) I wrote in Part 5: accuracy and error correction from the business perspective about the positive benefits and the due diligence and risk limitation concerns that businesses face as they gather, assemble, organize and develop, commoditize, distribute and use consumer sourced data. I turn here to consider some of these same issues from the perspective of the consumers that all of this data seeks to predictively describe.

• Data accuracy and access, unhindered by avoidable limitations on its use are key considerations as to big data value from the business and corporate perspective.
• Data access and accuracy, and the right to limit what is stored and to be able to correct what is, are among the most crucial considerations when big data is viewed from the consumer perspective, and the right to control access to this data by others and to delete what is stored are considered of equal importance at least as desired goals.
• That means correcting faulty data that could adversely impact on consumer credit ratings or otherwise cause harm to reputation and to creditworthiness.
• This means limiting the availability and accessibility of personally identifiable information in these systems, that could be readily used for identity theft purposes or otherwise used to the harm of the individuals that this data concerns.

One obvious point that comes out of even a cursory review of the wishes and priorities of businesses and consumers in this, is that there are multiple points of conflict of interest and for potential conflict too.

• Privacy law tends to weigh in very significantly and heavily in favor of the consumer and in support of protecting their personally identifiable information and their identity and reputation.
• Businesses seek to make the widest and most effective use of the information at their disposal, and to expand the reach of their data resources without crossing lines that create risks for themselves that outweigh benefits.

And an entire reputation management industry has been developing, centered around the identity and reputation protection of the individual consumer, and on identity and reputation recovery for when this flood of consumer and other personal information is misused. Reputation management per se began essentially entirely as a component of business-oriented public relations, and with a goal of promoting a positive reputation for businesses, and that side of it is still very important and will remain so. But consumer-oriented reputation management, in response to a growing need for help with so much personally identifiable information being out there, has become a growth industry. And if this is not a bigger business sector now than its business-centric counterpart it will be soon, and a larger and more lucrative market for reputation management businesses that work in these arenas as well.

And to put that into something of a numerical context as to levels of need, Google, the predominantly powerful and near omnipresent search engine – and so much more, is primarily a data collector and organizer, and a commoditizer of individual consumer data as its core business model through which it derives revenue. And as of this writing, every two days Google accumulates some 5 exabytes of data about us all – which is roughly the same amount of data as the entire world community developed from the dawn of recorded time through to until roughly the year 2003 (this information coming from a public statement of Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google.) And remember that 1 exabyte equals 1 thousand million gigabytes. We live in a world that is increasingly transparent, and where more and more of our lives and increasingly essentially all of the data that could be collected about us is being collected. And it is increasingly being commoditized and packaged as a marketable product too.

And the technology of big data and the range of ways in which it is used, changes and evolves increasingly faster than legislation and the creation of new law can keep up. So legal response to this is increasingly dependent on the sometimes wildcard of case law interpretation. I have already noted that point in this series from the business perspective, but note here that law and case law interpretation impact equally on businesses, and consumer rights and protection too.

As a final thought here I note that if there was a strictly adversarial relationship between businesses and consumers over collection, distribution and use of consumer data, any change in law or its interpretation as it impacts upon and shapes big data would have mirror opposite impact upon these two groups of stakeholders with an increase or strengthening in one direction equating directly with a corresponding weakening or restricting in the other. But the rate of change and the fact that law and its interpretation are always playing catch-up with the ever-changing here-and-now ensures that there is a large gray area where impact is less than certain. And more importantly that that, the complexities of both business and consumer needs and desires as they are both limited and enabled by big data creates uncertainty here. I am going to turn to this area of discussion in my next series installment. 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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