Big Data: valuable tool or silent killer?

What is Big Data and how does it relate to Bitcoin and the Blue Whale phenomenon?

As the internet evolves, so does its impact on society. Big Data forms a part of this evolution and is being recognised for its invaluable insights into the information age.

According to technology attorney Russel Luck, “Big Data refers to gathering quintillions of information outputs and analysing that information using machines. This would not be possible with human calculation outputs so the results we gather from Big Data generates new awareness of the world in all spheres of society.”

For example, Big Data can be used to ascertain the likes and preferences of movie goers. “In the age of Big Data, NETFLIX uses all the clicks generated on its website to compute what viewer interests are. This allows NETFLIX to create television content that satisfies the tastes of its viewers.”

In the medical arena Big Data helps to alleviate depression and prevent suicide. Information can be garnered to monitor social media use in patients who are presenting symptoms of depression. Through new technologies doctors are able to receive notifications about negative behavioural patterns prompting them to contact vulnerable patients.

Another celebrated Big Data advancement is known as Bitcoin. “Bitcoin allows for currency to be transferred anywhere without banking fees or government restrictions,” explains Luck. “This means banks no longer control how citizens spend their money or currency and have less of a strangle-hold over modern commerce. Moreover, as Bitcoin gains global traction, there are huge profits to be made in trading and mining Bitcoin.”

But it's not all good news. “Big Data can be used negatively to spy on people and gather sensitive information without that person’s consent.”

This practice is popular amongst credit card companies who monitor the spending habits of their clients.  According to Luck, powerful algorithms are used to calculate client spending at hotels, gyms or dental hygienists. If spending exceeds certain limits the company can ascertain the likelihood of extra-marital relations, which might lead to divorce. This kind of information gathering is intrusive and threatens client privacy.

Blue Whale also demonstrates the dangers of Big Data. This social networking game challenges participants to complete a series of tasks before finally being instructed to kill themselves.

These instances reveal the risks of internet access, particularly for younger people. “While social media is a powerful tool which connects people, it can also be used for brutal crime.”

“However one of the strengths of the digital world is that everything online has an information trail and criminals can be identified and tracked.”

Creating awareness about internet risks and encouraging conversation around similar practices also minimizes the risks involved with big data.

“The future is endless with limitless potential. At the moment, Big Data is trending as most explorative in the fields of medicine, agriculture, business and military readiness.”

For more insights join the Big Data course hosted by UCT law at work

By Cindy Payle - Portal Publishing