What is it?
According to Wikipedia, big data is “an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand data management tools or traditional data processing applications”.
And: “Big data usually includes data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage, and process the data within a tolerable elapsed time. Big data sizes are a constantly moving target, as of 2012 ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data in a single data set.”
That all sounds quite technical, so what does that mean for us?
In practice, for the average citizen, the fact that there is more and more data and that it is increasingly digitized means that governments, banks, businesses and shops have far greater insight into our lives – what we spend our money on, where we travel to, who we are in touch with…
That’s kind of creepy. Big Brother and all that…
On the one hand, you could say it’s kind of creepy or, to put it more formally, a breach of our privacy. But on the other hand, it can also make life easier.
In what way?
Well for example, we’re in Moscow at the moment and we don’t speak, or read, Russian, so it’s fair to say we’re pretty lost, both online and offline, when it comes to finding our way around. But because of our past online behaviour, Google Russia is only giving us tips and ads in English based on our location and search words.
So in this case, and in many other cases when we are travelling, the big data phenomenon is making our online life easier by narrowing our choices and offering us only the things we are interested in.
Well that’s creepy too!
Yeah. It probably is. But the point is, big data analysis is happening. Everywhere. So it’s not a question of whether we’re for or against it; it’s a question of how we deal with it. How do we allow the multiple data about our personal lives to be used? We would prefer it to be for the good, but it’s clear that it needs regulation and clear demarcations of boundaries. And it leads to an interesting discussion: What does privacy mean in 2014?
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