Big Data is going to be a challenge for many companies in the immediate future. More than 37% of large companies surveyed indicated that they agreed with this statement. The drivers for managing and capitalising on Big Data are clear. For example, if the average Fortune 1000 company increased the usability of its data by just 10%, the company’s revenue could expect to increase by over $2 billion. But what exactly is Big Data and what are some of the benefits and challenges it presents to organisations around the world?
No current legal definition of Big Data
Generally, the term Big Data refers to the large scale processing, analysing and storing of massive amounts of often unstructured computer generated information from a variety of sources in near real-time. The impact of any news laws will depend on how the legislators draft the definition.
With the rapid improvements in networks and devices Big Data has become big news
The proliferation of social media, smartphones and tablets and in the last few years and the release of upcoming wearable sensors (Google Glass and Apple Watch) have delivered an exponential increase in how technology can locate and measure our habits, how we can disclose our personal information at any time in any location, and how vast quantities of information about us can be amassed online. The ability to collect and analyse so much raw information simply wasn’t possible with the computing power and networks available 10 years ago. To illustrate just how ‘big’ Big Data is:
- 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone (IBM)
- 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, resulting in nearly eight years of content every day (Google)
- There was an estimated 1.8 zettabytes of business data in use in 2011, which is a 30% increase from 2010 (KPMG)
- Stacking CDs from the Earth until you reached the current global storage capacity for digital information would stretch 80,000 km beyond the moon (smartdatacollective.com)
Big Data offers innovative commercial and practical advantages for businesses that can successfully leverage it
Big Data can provide organisations with a competitive advantage by better informing its decision making processes, making advertisements more targeted and helping improve the customer experience. According to McKinsey, a businesses understanding and managing Big Data in the most efficient manner possible could increase its operating margin by more than 60%. Analysing the types of goods its customers usually buy or the websites they frequently visit and using this information to predict their preferences or future behaviour could help achieve this. Conversely, the poor use of data or poor data quality reportedly costs US businesses $600 billion annually.
Big Data has benefits for society too
Many of the solutions to today’s societal and economical issues could be solved by Big Data. For example, in Australia Big Data is being used by scientists to predict bushfire risks in certain suburbs and to model everything from the impact of climate change to pandemic outbreaks.
The law will have to adapt to keep up with the rapid pace of Big Data change
Big Data is often cross-jurisdictional and unstructured when it is collected and it may therefore not fall under existing natonal privacy laws, which are designed to regulate personally identifiable information like account registration details or bank information. In Australia the recipient of information must be reasonably able to identify or deduce the identity of the individual through the information for it to be regulated under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). As such, the collection and processing of Big Data information that is anonymous will not be regulated as personal information and the recipient will not be required to obtain consent for its use.
Where is your Big Data coming from?
However, most sets of data will be subject to some controls in respect of their use, unless they are specified as being ‘open data’. There is also a thriving black market that profits from identity theft and fraud. An organisation’s lawyers should therefore review any licence terms on which the data is provided and negotiate appropriate warranties and protections in the contract with the data’s owner.
Privacy is not the ‘smoking gun’ that automatically makes Big Data ‘bad’. It is possible for business to balance Big Data risk and reward
Social media websites are successful because of our hardwired need to connect with other humans and share things. There is a lot of information that individuals are happy to voluntarily share online, which is often very personal and identifiable information, in exchange for using social media sites like Facebook for free. There is no doubt that Big Data analytics can offer a lot of value to a business by mining available data sets, but it can also pose a significant risk. Businesses must be mindful of security and governance processes so that personal data is secure and protected from misuse and hacking. It would also be prudent for businesses to have appropriate privacy compliance processes and standards in place and be open and transparent about how information will be collected, processed and transferred.
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