What is Big Data, how are we contributing to it’s growth, and how is it affecting our lives?
A new concept called “Big Data” emerged about three years ago, referring to the huge amounts of data aggregated in the databases of giant companies, such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc. The size and complexity of such datasets poses challenges to traditional capture, processing and analysis techniques.
As noted by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, when addressing the audience at the Techonomy conference in 2010, “Every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”
The rapid increase in the amount of generated data necessitated a novel approach to its management. This has led to the concept of big data, as well as the creation of a number of new technologies that can be used not only to store and organize data, but also search, analyze, classify, understand and employ it intelligently. Today, Facebook has access to information about a significant portion of society that we couldn’t have imagined anyone would know about individuals without them having explicitly shared it with someone. In the recent past, websites could produce a report on our character by analyzing our list of friends, messages, posts, and pages we subscribe to. Now, all that is required for a much more in-depth profile is for a user to slow down scrolling at certain parts of a post or a piece of news, without even having to press on any links, for the underlying software to pick up on that and infer that such category of posts and news is of interest to this individual. Such information is complied and analyzed for any visible patterns, resulting in a comprehensive profile of a large number of individuals. Most social media websites have now developed their proprietary methods for interpreting our daily habits, preferences, and beliefs. While these rely on complex algorithms, they still to a large extent utilize the history of our browsing habits.
Upon conducting a comprehensive study on one of the increasing number of dating websites currently available at the global level, a Big Data analyst stated that the results revealed shocking and frightening patterns in the personal data collection activities. He noted that our online activities provide a window into our private lives, which we believe are safe from prying eyes. Without us being aware, companies can use our search patterns and communication to reveal who we truly are, even though we feel safe and anonymous behind the screens of our computers and phones. In stating this, the analyst was not referring to secret online affairs, as those have become easy to find out long time ago. In fact, he aimed to highlight that advanced technologies are now so sophisticated that they are capable of inferring human character from the analysis of a relatively limited data set. Those technologies allow companies to understand thinking patterns and the values users believe in with an unprecedented high level of precision.
Alarmingly, the Big Data analyst reported that a significant proportion of modern societies, that are generally not perceived as racist, do show racist tendencies online. Evidence obtained through this extensive analysis indicated that people who, in their everyday lives, claim to respect others and human rights, in their online conduct often exhibit certain levels of racism and superiority to anyone different from them. Supporting this claim is the finding pertaining to the US-based dating website that was the focus of the study, were black subscribers on average generated quarter the attention white people received. Similarly, black users did not browse the profiles of white people, and would rarely be members of the same chat groups. Individuals of other races also tend to communicate with those in the same group, even though all users of this dating website are listed as American citizens! Clearly, our behaviors in physical spaces are distinct from those we exhibit behind closed doors, indicating that companies paying attention to online consumer behavior patterns are on the right track. Evidence suggests that one’s affinity toward a certain product depends to a large extent on the color and perceived characteristics of the person marketing the product in the advertisement. In response, as a means of attracting a much broader consumer base, many companies have removed the human element from their commercials.
Cynics believe that life is fake, and even honest people are not really genuine, as no one can tell the truth all the time. There are also those that believe wearing masks is a normal behavior, as is lying and hypocrisy. These views are justified by claims that one cannot progress in life without resorting to those means. Whatever your convictions are, rest assured that you never really know what others think and believe, and maybe it is better not to know.