As we enter into a new data-intensive society, where are we headed? What can “big data” do for society? We have seen examples of how big data is revolutionizing science across multiple fields. I encourage you to think about the raw data, whether it’s in the form of numbers, videos, or written text. Big data allows us to look at the relationships between these data-driven entities. Furthermore, uncovering these relationships enables us to draw new conclusions concerning how humans inhabit the world. Through these discovery processes, we can learn how to use the data around us more efficiently every day, but is this always a good thing?
Data mining the available data has enabled us to uncover information about ourselves that we never knew existed. For example, increasing storage capacities has allowed companies to hold information and create a user “profile” from the information they gather. From the profiles, companies can group individuals with similar online activity hoping to uncover user “likes” and “dislikes”. These groups then help companies make conclusions on which advertisements to display to the specific users. TIME Magazine’s Joel Stein remarks about the existing errors as companies try to tailor advertisements based on the collective information they have about a particular individual, “Google’s Ads Preferences believes I’m a guy interested in politics, Asian food, perfume, celebrity gossip, animated movies and crime but who doesn’t care about “books & literature” or “people & society.” (So not true.) Yahoo! has me down as a 36-to-45-year-old male who uses a Mac computer and likes hockey, rap, rock, parenting, recipes, clothes and beauty products” . Google and Yahoo have made different conclusions about the same individual, both of which displease the user.
In order to address online profiling and advertisement targeting now available through the easiness of manipulating big data, society must create new ethical policies to deal with this data. We must establish ground rules for what’s acceptable and open information online and what should remain private. Individuals may start to feel violated as online depicts them as a person that they are not (as demonstrated by Stein above). Consequently, new advertisement companies are developing in order to address such problems we are now seeing online regarding big data and online profiling. For example, data-mining companies (Datalogix) have started projects to re-do the click stream algorithms implemented by Google page rank, and such companies have found ways to more effectively target advertisements to specific audiences . Even if companies find ways to create a more accurate profile of individuals based on their online activity, does that make it okay to use this information to their advantage? Or, is it still a violation of privacy to online users?
Big data has opened the doors to much discussion about the future of information and online usage. It has allowed us to advantageously track and record numbers to create a questionably more enjoyable online experience, but where are the lines drawn? From here, and taking all of the capabilities of ubiquitous information into account, I think we need to educate online users of how companies are using their information. This would be a start so that we can still benefit from the gains big data brings without violating online user’s personal information or sense of online identity.