Critically Engaging with Big Data

We often hear of the multiple benefits big data can bring to the corporate space and to society at large.

Its proponents and practitioners will attest to multiple benefits ranging from better customer experience and faster decision-making through to planning and operations and faster market penetration of products and services. Yet, amid the hype, we rarely critically engage with the dark side of data generation, retention and analysis.

It is important to recognise that while big data has the potential to do a lot of good, it also provides opportunities to utilise the wealth of information generated on a day-to-day basis for nefarious purposes. In a recent Forbes piece, Bernard Marr focuses on the consequences of this, with particular reference to why ‘dictators love big data’. He writes:

“In China, the government is rolling out a social credit score that aggregates not only a citizen’s financial worthiness, but also how patriotic he or she is, what they post on social media, and who they socialize with. If your “social credit” drops below a certain level because you post anti-government messages online or because you’re socially associated with other dissidents, you could be denied credit approval, financial opportunities, job promotions, and more.

“But don’t think this is limited to places like China.  In the U.K., a sophisticated network of closed-circuit television cameras means that law enforcement and government agencies can track people and vehicles almost anywhere they go within a city.  Facial recognition software, gait recognition algorithms, license-plate cameras and more make finding a person or vehicle anywhere in the city a matter of time and computer power.”

While in democratic societies citizens have assurances that big data will be used for “good and not evil purposes”, Marr contends that the frightening aspect of big data stems from the inability of citizens to “opt-out”. Individuals can choose to shun social media websites, avoid emails and even anonymise internet usage – but, he writes:

“…the moment you visit a doctor, pick up a phone, buy a loaf of bread, or even check out a library book, you’ve created a data point somewhere. And from there, it’s unclear who has access to that data — legitimate or otherwise. And it’s impossible to know how any of that data will be used in the future.”

Whitehall Media’s upcoming Big Data Analytics conferences offers a high level platform for the discussion of privacy, big data utilisation, ethics and next-generation technological developments. The events bring together hundreds of vendors, end-users, thought leaders and practitioners from across all industry sectors to discuss and analyse the latest trends and developments in this space. Join us in Amsterdam for our all-day event with an excellent line-up of speakers. Details on how to register your place can be found on