It’s All Data, Data, Data!

Big Data and Big Money are interchangeable now. Last week Dell bought EMC to the tune of 67 billion. In my opinion, the deal is bound to payoff and be quite profitable in the long-term. Integrating systems can only bring the price down owing to economies of scale. Doing business with one company instead of two, or more, even. Both companies are reputable in the world of data business. Another topic of interest making headlines recently is the SafeHarbour/Max Schrems case. It brings to the fore the importance of privacy in relation to data. The argument can be made that personal data is not a commodity. Data becomes more linked everyday and therefore if we cannot prevent this from happening then we need to look at solutions of incorporating linked data in a responsible manner. Etiquette of sorts. One prominent example is the Code of Ethics of the Digital Repository of Ireland. The code has eight steps which are adhered to namely protection, openness and privacy, continued development, objectivity and to inform policy/share research and finally to communicate and to ensure equality prevails. This may seem a lot to take on board and attempt to balance. The nature of data is complex, however, it can be simplified where needs be in order to gain perspective. These are the libraries and archives of contemporary times. What some people fear is extreme censorship like what has been and still is the case in some parts of the world. The main reason given was not to ‘corrupt’ the mind. However, this is unlikely to be the case unless people are consistently exposed to media of a certain type, of a derogatory kind.

From where I am standing it is quite evident that unless every single aspect of the digital adopt a code of ethics, per se, to some degree or another there will be huge legal costs involved like we have seen with Safe Harbour/Max Schrems. The argument put forward against this has been that multinationals will be forced to pay much higher costs if this transatlantic destined data were to come to a halt. Many multinationals have been creaming it, with cheap skilled labour from other parts of the world and then repatriating profits back to their own headquarters based elsewhere. Some would think fair is fair, the cost has to balance itself. One cannot expect to take everything and not give back in some shape or form. The argument is that jobs are created and economies flourish as a result of the jobs created. But are jobs really everything if peoples’ personal data are at stake and become a commodity of sorts to be traded on the global market to the highest bidder. Leaving digital footprints aside what is more concerning is having to use personal data in order to use websites such as Facebook. Many people have been cut off from using the website if it is felt they are using an alias. One case I can recall is of a man who had in fact changed his name through deed poll, he was prevented from using the site until it was proven otherwise. Such sites may cause many more to change their names in future via deed poll if the use of such data were to become invasive. An analysis of a social media profile could expose quite a lot about a person’s personality, their personal likes and dislikes, their connections to others. Some of this information is rather sensitive and could easily be manipulated for other purposes. What if any image posted online could be used for advertising in the future. How comfortable would people be with that notion? For example, personal images used to endorse a product that someone is vehemently opposed to? It is presently happening but in a different way, you place information online which is then used to target advertisements at you personally based on your interests.

The only hope I can see is that internet search engines are not yet personally tailored but what will happen when this is the case? You may have no interest in something but are just curious to learn about something and suddenly suggestions begin to appear in relation to previous searches. A code needs to be hammered out and quick to deal with all eventualities before the world of marketing takes over as it has done in the past. How many children plague parents with the ‘nagging effect’ whereby daytime television targeted ads manipulate young minds and convince them that they need this product for their very happiness. I am not against marketing, it can be very effective and a powerful tool but where do you draw the line of it becoming abusive like that of harassing kind of promotional mail through the letterbox? If someone wants to sign up, let them by all means, but if someone declines, they should be let be and let to decide for themselves what it is that suits them given the time and place.

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