Source: Vishal Krishna/yourstory.com (27 June 2016)
Big Data are mostly discussed for two reasons. The first reason is whether those data that include personal information are safe or not. The second one is about how the data that are provided are used.
To begin with, I need to clarify what I am talking about when I use the term ‘Big Data’. CERN also uses Big Data but with another meaning for example. In this post I refer to the specific kind of Big Data that include private information and are mostly generated by humans through social media platforms or records of mobile phone lines.
Regarding the first main reason of criticism that I mentioned above, we all know that at least partly of all the information that are available on Facebook are accessible to corporations. This can be easily understood by seeing the way in which Facebook advertisements function. There is targeted advertising based on a variety of possible data. Usually in the social media context, the information that are datafied are deeply personal. Friendships, relationships and experiences are turned into data (Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier, 2013) and corporations have access to those data in order to spot the market fragment that they target. On top of that, Facebook constantly expands with new features (Meikle, 2016). As a result we share more information and we consequently become more exposed.
Besides the commercial use of personal information, another data security problem is information leak. On one occasion Facebook had to admit that 6 million users had personal information exposed. If we take into consideration that Facebook did admit this very late, it is normal to assume that similar events may have happened in the past on social media platforms and users just never got informed.
The other main problem that we face with social media, is our inability to use properly the mass of data produced through them. From a humanitarian point of view, it is hard to know whether a post on social media is accurate or not. As Meier (2015) describes, when there is an indication that there is need for help somewhere, it is hard to validate whether this is true or not. Taking also into consideration how many those indications may be, it becomes even harder to validate them all in a short period of time, if needed.
This takes us to another dimension of the same problem which is our inability to analyse the data that we have. There is a huge discussion on whether or not private data should be used even in humanitarian occasions. The problem is that, even if researchers had full access to Big Data, the problem would not be solved. The existing need is not necessarily for more data but for more relative data (Taylor & Schroeder, 2015) that will be targeting every time the existing needs.
- Mayer-Schönberger, V. and Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Meier, P. (2015). Digital Humanitarians: How BIG DATA Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
- Meikle, G. (2016). Social Media: Communication, Sharing and Visibility. New York: Routledge.
- Taylor, L. and Schroeder, R. (2015). Is bigger better? The emergence of big data as tool for international development policy. GeoJournal, 80: 503-528.