Have you ever had the feeling that someone is listening? Following your every step, or even reading your thoughts? Well, something probably is. At first sight, the internet seems free, but everything has a price. You pay with your personal and behavioural information, and together with multiple people’s information, it constitutes “Big data”-files. “Big data” are extremely extensive datasets that can be used to analyse and reveal trends and patterns concerning human behaviour and interactions. As a result of the rapid development of big data management and the internet, an ethical discussion has aroused about this thrilling, and somewhat intimidating, phenomenon.
Alongside digitalisation, we have been able to collect more and more data, faster than ever. Data that is defined as “Big data” contains a great variety and arrives in enlarging volumes with more velocity. Today, these data files are so voluminous that it overwhelms modern technologies, and it is a complex challenge to develop data storage, managing tools and techniques. If managed and analysed correctly, it is possible to uncover correlations and patterns within the data files that can help both companies and scientists in many industries and fields, to make data-informed decisions. “Big data” is the key to new valuable discoveries and global improvements, but if used incorrectly, “Big data” can pose a major risk.
The purpose of “Big data” research is to find trends that would never have been uncovered by traditional statistical tools and research, and it offers huge potential. Correctly managed, “Big data” can save lives. It can be used to predict natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. In addition, it can make the recovery more efficient; “Big data” can map evacuation routes and formulate rescue strategies.
As well as predicting disasters, “Big data” can also be the solution for our main global challenge: climate change. Besides helping individual companies to increase sales and efficiency, “Big data” is useful to help them understand and act on the environmental impacts of their operations. By optimizing businesses’ usages of resources waste will diminish, profits will increase, and the quality of products will improve. “Big data” can also ensure better environmental regulation by being incorporated in government policies. The government can then monitor emissions of large utility facilities and create data-informed regulations to decrease global warming. This is only one of many areas “Big Data” can be applied to, others are medicine, business and solving crimes.
Despite its benefits, “Big data” entails both security and ethical issues. The bigger amount of data an organisation possesses, the more expensive and difficult it becomes to keep it safe. In 2019, the Risk-Based Security Mid-Year Data Breach report showed that 4.1 billion data files were exposed due to illegal breaches. If in possession of criminal organisations, “Big data” can be abused and promote criminal activities targeted against individuals, as well as being a national threat.
The main ethical concerns are the risk of discrimination and the protection of personal integrity. “Big data” files can be unintentionally biased because of biased selection of data sources or neglect of important circumstances. Managing “Big data” is also a complex manner and is therefore prone to technical and methodical errors. The results can hence be discriminating against some individuals. This is relevant since “Big data” is recurrent in our daily life. The second ethical issue concerns the risk of exposing personal integrity. Whenever we use the internet, we leave digital traces. These traces are collected and formed into digital profiles that are used to create direct marketing for example. This is heavily criticised, and many scientific studies prove that even anonymous data often can be traced back with far-fetched information.
All things considered; It seems that “Big data ” solves unsolvable problems for the price of creating new ones. However, identifying and recognising potential risks is the first step to resolve them. “Big data ” is still in its cradle and applying current techniques will be risky – but maybe “Big data” is our only hope. As Aristoteles once said: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. “Big data” gives us access to the whole, and in my opinion, it would be foolish not to use it. But let’s do it wisely.