Six Myths About Big Data

Since data is now woven into almost every facet of the global economy, it makes sense that big data is beneficial to businesses. Large resources of data which can be combined, analysed and scrutinised in order to identify patterns and trends can be used to make better, more creative business decisions, and it’s arguable that this could easily become the basis of growth and competition amongst firms, whilst also reducing waste and increasing the level of high quality services and products available.

Whilst all of this may be true, it’s imperative that businesses understands how to use this data in order to make the most of it. Here we take a look at the six myths of big data.

Big Data is New
Papers discussing the difficulty of visualising Big Data date back to 1997, indicating that it has been around for almost two decades. The difference is that it’s now reaching us in completely new forms, and is generating a lot of comment – in a similar manner to mobile phones in the 1990s.

Big Data is Objective
Twitter was alive with messages about Hurricane Sandy last year, with over 20 million tweets about the storm, which might at first seem like a ballpark figure for the number of people affected. In reality, the 16% of US citizens on Twitter are likely to be younger and more affluent than those worst affected. Many took to Twitter to provide their home details in an attempt to seek aid – information which still remains out there, despite the threat having subsided, highlighting that data sets should always need references in context as to why they were created.

Big Data Doesn’t Discriminate
Social networking timelines can be used to determine the ethnicity of a person with 95% accuracy, even when stripped of basic data such as names. Information such as sexual orientation is also easy to ascertain, and this sort of information can be used to determine the sorts of advertisements people receive.

Big Data Makes Cities Smart
In reality, big data is only as advanced as the people using it. Technology like GPS can track people using modern smartphones, although not everybody has access to the same quality technology. Smart Cities initiatives can actually have an adverse effect, promoting tension between citizens and what they view as “big brother” initiatives.

Big Data is Anonymous
A recent study looked at 1.5 million telephone records with information that could be used to personally identify an individual removed. It revealed that only four data points of where and when calls were made could be used in order to identify 95% of people in the study. With just two data points, it was possible to identify half of them. Search engine queries can easily provide data which would be protected if it came up in a hospital or GP’s surgery.

You Can Opt Out
The photo-sharing network Instagram last year changed its terms of service in order to allow it to use its customer’s photos for their own means, with no choice for consumers to opt out. Given the ease of access to data on such systems, it would be difficult to guarantee that such information would not be used, making it difficult to ever truly protect data in such a manner.