What do you think of when someone mentions big data? As a technology, big data is more a concept than anything else. It is the idea of collecting as much data as you possibly can regardless of whether or not you have a use for it. The technology wizards can figure out how to use it later on. To many people, the big data idea is synonymous with George Orwell’s big brother.
If you have an aversion to big data, there is something you should understand: you are fuelling the big data behemoth every time you use technology. And because most of us interact with technology on multiple fronts throughout the day, we are all inadvertently feeding big data even if we don’t want to.
This could be good or bad news depending on your perspective. If you are older, you might be a bit wary of big data. Younger people who grew up with technology are not nearly as intimidated. They use technology without giving it a second thought. Just know this: big data is always out there. It is always lurking behind every technology corner.
It Started with Search
Modern companies routinely subject their computer systems to a data audit for GDPR purposes. They work with SEO markers to track all sorts of data that doesn’t make sense to anyone but them. The list of ways big data influences the business world goes on and on. But guess what? It all started with search.
Way back when the internet was first introduced as a commercial entity, most of the data being collected by business organisations was related to search engines. Data was being collected and stored for other purposes, like billing and customer service, but it was kept separate. It was not being integrated with the few online systems in existence at the time. No, online data was mainly used for search functions.
By the mid-1990s, it became apparent just how effective the internet could be as a marketing tool. That’s when companies began collecting and storing personal data for marketing purposes. It was then just a small leap from collecting data for your own marketing purposes to turning around and selling it to other companies for their marketing.
Data collection these days goes way beyond just marketing. And yet, marketing is still at its core. Take Google, for example. It continues to collect, store, and mine data solely for the purpose of selling advertising. Big data started with the search and is kept alive by it.
Your Phone and Computer
Even now you are using either a phone or a computer to read this post. Your device is feeding the big data behemoth in the background. How so? This website planted a cookie on your device. That cookie will collect information from your internet use and send it back to the website owner unless, and until, you force it to stop.
Have you ever wondered why so many websites are publishing cookie warnings now? They do so to comply with data protection law. That warning serves as a reminder that the website you are visiting is collecting personal data from your device. You do not have to accept the site’s cookies. You can always opt out.
By the way, your Android or iPhone device collects and transmits data on you even if you never use the onboard web browser. You are being tracked via your apps. Google is tracking you via your phone’s GPS function in order to generate real-time traffic info for its map application.
Your Home Appliances
Moving on to less direct big data influences brings us to home appliances. You may think your appliances are pretty innocuous from a data perspective, but think again. Any smart appliance in your home is capable of collecting and transmitting data that feeds the big data behemoth. Take your smart refrigerator, for example.
Your fridge might be very capable of keeping track of the food inside and sending you a message when it’s time to stock up. Yet the information it collects does not exist locally. There is no hard drive or operating system embedded in your fridge. No, the data is sent to the manufacturer’s cloud. In order for it to connect to your phone, the cloud environment needs your personal information as well. See how this works?
Your smart TV feeds big data. So does your streaming device, your router, your smart thermostat, and so on. Every component of the modern smart home collects and transmits personal data pertaining to you and your account. Some of those smart devices might even store data locally.
Your Credit and Debit Cards
Even the plastic you use to pay for things feeds big data. Your bank and credit card companies store the personal information pertaining to your account. But that’s just the start of it. They also track your spending. Your bank and credit card companies know exactly how much you spend, what you spend it on, when you spend it, and so forth. All of that data is compiled, tracked, and sold for marketing purposes.
Do you use a phone-based payment instead of your credit or debit card? The app is feeding big data, too. Every time you waive your phone in front of a payment terminal, data from your phone is transferred to the retailer’s computer systems and then off to the cloud. Who knows where it goes from there?
No Such Thing as Privacy
The point of all of this is not to frighten you or make you sceptical of technology. It is simply to illustrate the fact that there really is no such thing as data privacy. EU regulators had consumer’s best interests at heart when they came up with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) a few years ago. But all the regulation does is force companies to admit to collecting data and give you the ability to opt out.
Unless you are actively opting out, nothing has changed. Your data is still being collected, stored, utilised, and sold on the open market. Every time you use technology, you are feeding the big data machine that politicians want you to believe they are protecting you against. They cannot really protect you. The behemoth has grown too big and become too powerful.