Big Data: Blessing or Curse? Part 1

Source: Vishal Krishna/yourstory.com (27 June 2016)

Due to their various applications, Big Data are very often demonized. Being a technological product, Big Data are however neutral. It depends on us, on the use that we choose to apply on them that eventually defines the outcome of the practice. The aspect of Big Data that is undeniable, is the power that they convey (Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier, 2013). This power can be used both for good and for evil.

From a development perspective, there are fields of secondary importance where Big Data contribute to society. This ranges, from all managerial implications regarding sustainability – since there is correspondence between the real needs and the actions of corporations, while a better communication within the complex business environment is also promoted – to how Spotify created a better menu based on Big Data research.

If we exclude such secondary contributions or references to how capitalist economy becomes more efficient, there are more developmental contributions that Big Data may offer. First of all, they provide a huge pool of data to governments. Those data are usually connected to theories about spying on citizens. On the other hand, it is the same data that can be used for the wellbeing of the citizens. Some countries choose to use data in such way, while some others do it to a lesser extent (Spratt & Baker, 2015).

In this perspective, hospitals and schools can adapt more efficiently to the needs of patients and children. Access to data can be proven to be helpful in various ways. A very good example is the application which addresses the global water crisis. This applications allows the user to share through an online platform his knowledge about water quality in a certain area. The platform through which this knowledge is shared, is open source so that everybody can access it.

In order to take full advantage of the information that those kind of data might provide, it is important not just to focus on obtaining more data. More specifically, the focus should be on data relevant to the priorities that are set in each occasion.  This would  provide greater transparency to the issues that need to be tackled (Taylor & Schroeder, 2015).

Finally, being biased in favor of Big Data in this first part of the analysis, I attempt to answer the issue about how reliable Big Data are and how this is related to privacy issues. As Taylor and Schroeder (2015, p. 515) point out, in the case that researchers had full access to such massive data sets, they would understand issues of biases and they would make data more relevant as a policy tool. Those biases are a result of not having full access to such data sets. Having full access to them would, of course, be against the privacy of the data. As a result, corporate ownership would not allow that easily this kind of access to governments or researchers. Nevertheless, this kind of access might be proven to be useful in development context.

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  • Mayer-Schönberger, V. and Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Spratt, S. and Baker, J. (2015). Big Data and International Development: Impacts, Scenarios and Policy Options. Brighton: IDS.
  • Taylor, L. and Schroeder, R. (2015). Is bigger better? The emergence of big data as a tool for international development policy. GeoJournal, 80: 503-518.

One thought on “Big Data: Blessing or Curse? Part 1”

  1. I agree with your comments about big data being used to benefit society. Big data does have a negative representation at time with regard to schooling opinions, league tables, and standard of teaching. Not to mention the endless statistics on how Hospitals are failing patients. The question from all the negative representation of data should be, what are we going to do with the information in order to improve. Your research is easy to locate, furthermore, provokes the reader to look for further subject related material.

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