I got it now – just finished my 100th book (since August 2011, I wrote some more about that in my previous post). It was “Big Data @ Work” by T. H. Davenport and it is somewhat fitting as the topic of that book touches on subject which will be – maybe even is already – very important to all of us. Now, I didn’t choose that book on purpose, I usually read randomly, even up to three books at the same time. Many times books I read point me to the next book etc.
Big Data is something we all need to get used to quickly. We all leave “digital trace” now and we all, at least all using smart phones, email, laptop, online shopping and anything digital or online this century offers. All that generates our personal digital data, our preferences, places we went to, shops we paid with our credit card (or any other card) at, web search habits, sites we visited, our names and addresses (if you ever filed an application online), health history, account statements… All this sits somewhere, most likely in many different places at once, and tells a very complete story about us. This is already a lot of data. Add to it our images, GPS data from our cars, videos from security cameras, or usage data from sensors in our homes – such as electrical meters, gas meters, whatever. And this will still not be all of it.
All this can be used for or against us. Big companies use that data already to some extent to sell us more, which practically means that we are being exploited – and whichever company has a better model, there we go spending our money. The models get better with every second and we are becoming more predictive just as quickly. Insurance companies may refuse to sell us certain policies or raise our premiums – either based on some disease history, or for example on our driving habits supplied happily by sensors built into our cars.
Big Data has its good and bad side, like anything. But what I see – at least right now – as the worst side is the fact that despite some movement in that area we still do not own completely our data. Somebody does and there is many of those somebodies. We should have a choice who gets what data from us. We should be able to choose if we want to be targeted with better advertising in exchange for our shopping habits. Or get better movie suggestions based on our viewing history and preferences. Or get better medical treatment (or heighten chances of discovering one) in exchange for our medical records. But we do not have that choice now.
The first problem lies in numbers – data of a single person don’t matter, so for that single person fight to get it back is not worth it. But data of many people does matter, and it does matter for every single individual. Compare this principle to start-stop system in cars: one does not save that much gas. All of them do save a lot.
The second problem is that each one of us would need to have some means of identification which would be the same across each data collection point. Under that identification our data would be stored, each time. But you know what that means? We would just become unique numbers. But here is the thing: we are numbers already. Entries in some big fucking database.
I would like to own all that sits under my unique number and decide what do I want to do with it. Wouldn’t you?