Big Data: For Better or Worse

By J. Christy McKibben

Big data is a term that most of us have heard, but one that most of us may have a difficult time defining. Big data is a method built on “the ability of society to harness information in novel ways to produce useful insights or goods and services of significant value” (Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier, 2013). Basically, big data can take information and use it to predict what is, or what may be, needed by some. Big data may be a useful tool to predict and prevent health outbreaks across the globe. It’s also used to help companies sell more products and services using an analytical approach—so they can market to a more spot-on target audience.

Illness Detection

Big data has been used to detect potential outbreaks of diseases, such as the flu. For instance, Google’s software looks “for correlations between the frequency of certain search queries and the spread of the flu over time and space” (Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier, 2013). Google used “450 million different mathematical models” to test and see if they could come up with potential areas of flu outbreaks (Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier, 2013). Once they did this with their software, they found “a combination of 45 search terms that…had a strong correlation between their prediction and the official figures nationwide” (Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier, 2013). So in real time, individuals across the world would enter in different search terms. Some of these words or terms may have been: cough, fever, high temperature, fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Google’s software and mathematical equations were then able to do the work quickly and communicate this information to public health officials

Stalking Potential Customers?

Another, and often controversial, practice is the use of big data by companies to sell more of their products and services. Companies use big data to find a more fitting target audience for their products and/or services. For instance, I recently bought my mother flowers from a large well-known online company. For the last several weeks, when I travel to different websites while doing research for school or work, I’ve been bombarded with ads. These ads are from the flower company I did business with, as well as other flower and plant companies. These companies have seen what I’ve purchased and “suggest” that I may be interested in purchasing from their company. Edd Wilder-James, contributor to Forbes, states that, in part, big data has become a “smattering of privacy-invading personal data collection.”

One important aspect of big data for companies is the crucial concept of customer retention. According to IBM, “Analyzing big data can help you discover ways to improve customer interactions, add value and build relationships that last.” In other words, find out what your customers want, treat them well, give them what they want, and they won’t look elsewhere.

It’s Here to Stay

According to T.H. Davenport and J. Dyché, “online and startup firms…[such as]…Google, eBay, LinkedIn, and Facebook were built around big data from the beginning”…[because they were untraditional firms without]…traditional IT infrastructures.” These new organizations paved the way for more companies, both small and large to use big data to improve their marketing and sales. With big data being a new concept, it is hard to predict what the future of it will hold. No matter if it’s used to predict global health crises, environmental concerns, or to potentially invade someone’s privacy—big data is here to stay.

-J. Christy McKibben

Reference (print)

Mayer-Schonberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Image 1 via Pixabay by PeteLinforth
Image 2 via Pixabay by kaboompics

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