My friend big data

Big Data is not your friend. Or at least if your one for living your own life. Turns out that maybe you are just like the other .03 percent of balding white males from Washtenaw County. Now that is disconcerting. Can’t I just be me?
And if they know all this  about me, am I then simply like some insect, one more addition to a collection? An object? Or perhaps worse, even an enemy?
Like it or not, with big data we are entering an age of asymmetrical transparency. So the question of big data, of massive databases and increasingly the tools to analyze them is this: Can they be controlled?
Paul Ohm is not so sure, as he makes clear in a blog post,Don’t Build a Database of Ruin.
Companies that deal with personal information (meaning all companies, really) need to focus much more often than they have on the history of privacy practices in their industries. Although neither report (from the federal government) defines in depth what it means by the word “context,” to me the message seems to be: do not push the privacy envelope.
This aspect of self control is interesting. Can companies resist? The difficulty with corporate self control is that of self control generally. How do you stop yourself? How do you discipline yourself? Applies even to business. What do you need? What don’t you need? Ethical action with respect to resources will always be a challenge. The conundrum is that while we long for some one else to tell us what to do, for some outside law to govern our behavior, at the end of the day the challenge of discipline remains ours. Alone.

Then again, maybe I’m the one being gullible. A much more knowledgeable and computer savvy friend, Dawn Wolthuis responds

‎”Big Data” is somewhat a marketing term for managing data in a way that is scalable for modern software applications (using data navigation, for example, as well as non-first normal form collections) rather than modeling data as relations and doing only set-based SQL access. So, this article might be backed by relational database promoters who are trying to muddy the waters so that if a tech person suggests they look into Big Data solutions then another business person might think “oh yeah I just read how bad that is, so I will do what I can to block this initiative”. In other words, this article is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

And wouldn’t you know, the next day, there’s a second article from the Harvard Business Review, Can Big Data Smoke Out the Silent Majority? On one hand this reinforces Wolthuis’ point, the  data is already there, waiting for the connections. We only have better tools. Well, I suppose that’s a relief. Still . . .


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