Big Data is one of the most potentially dangerous and destructive new technologies to come about in the last century. While a new fighter jet or a new type of bomb can certainly wreck havoc, big data has the potential to insidiously undermine and subtly (and not-so subtly) change almost every aspect of modern life.
As you may know, I’m an advocate for big data; it’s my business and my passion. But I’m also an advocate for understanding the risks associated with it and taking the appropriate measures to counteract them.
I see the major risks of big data as follows.
1. It will challenge how businesses are run and the business models that will help them succeed. This is both good and bad. For some businesses, this underlying change will signal huge opportunity and trigger massive growth. For others who cannot adapt and change with the times, it will signal the beginning of the end. I predict we will see many more instances of upstart companies coming in and changing the entire dynamic of a particular field or market, the way Netflix disrupted video rentals and Uber has disrupted taxi service. Established “old school” businesses should wake up and take note. And these sorts of disruptions could have major potential economic implications.
2. Everything can be tracked and analysed. When I say everything, I mean everything. We have only scratched the surface of the data it is possible to collect about our lives, our businesses, our environment, our behaviours. I’ve written about some of the cool and frightening aspects of the Internet of Things, which will drive the big data generation going forward. And while it’s great for a company to know exactly what’s happening with its stock and products, where does it cross the line when they want to know everything about what their employees and customers are doing as well? Is it OK to track information about your children? Your health? Your buying habits? Your social interactions? And if it is permissable to track that information, under what circumstances? And who gets to access it? Who owns it? All these questions remain largely unanswered while the technology pushes ever forward.
3. Privacy problems and discrimination become rampant. Since everything about us can be tracked, it can also be used for nefarious purposes. Privacy law has not kept up with the technology and the types of data being collected. Who owns the data that is collected about you — you, or the company that collects it? The answer will determine how that data can be shared and used, whether it’s about your buying habits online or more private maters.