It seems as though the news has been full of the dangers of “big data”. Most recently, Facebook came under fire for the Cambridge Analytics scandal, in which it allowed a political consulting firm to harvest raw data from 50 million Facebook profiles in order to target political ads. While, understandably, the idea of sharing personal data may be daunting, there are a variety of ways that big data—when used correctly—has the potential to wildly benefit our society.
- Targeted Marketing
When it comes to shopping, personal data tells a story about each individual customer. This story can actually help brands understand their consumers and target them with only the most relevant offers and promotions. Big data gives companies the power to say goodbye to the days of blindly sending out mass campaigns. It’s now possible to stop spamming people with irrelevant emails and letters and to show them the things they actually want—benefitting both the company and the customer.
- Improved Healthcare
As our ability to understand large quantities of data increases, so does our ability to improve our approach to healthcare. Using data we can predict disease patterns, auto-fill prescriptions, and find new cures. The more information we have about temperatures, heart rates etc., the more easily we can find correlations and diagnose diseases based on commonalities. It’s also possible to look at climate and temperature data to find correlations between these and the spread of certain diseases. This can help predict future outbreaks.
In the banking sector, big data allows for the detection of credit and debit card fraud and can be used to track the movement of the commercial market. Algorithms are even used to make trading decisions. In fact, the majority of equity trading is done via algorithms, which use social media and news data to buy/sell in a fraction of a second. Insurance, as well, is benefitting from big data, as it offers insights into buyer behavior, and can predict who is in need of what service.
- Improved Science/Research
Big data gives scientists the tools they need to perform analysis in ways that were only dreamed of in the past. The goal of modern science is to capture large, comprehensive amounts of data and find trends that accurately depict the world around us. Since the 1980’s, we’ve seen the number of gene sequences on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website increase from 4,954 in 1985 to 190 million at the end of 2015. Experiments can now efficiently be conducted on a computer, using large existing datasets, without any need to go back to the lab.
- Personal Insights
Today, almost everyone has some sort of smart device—be it a phone, a watch, or even a necklace. We track our sleep, caloric intake, heart rate, and activity, all with one small piece of technology. This gives each person access to a variety of insights/correlations about their daily behavior that can help them understand their personal patterns/trends, and ultimately live a healthier life.
The Bottom Line
It’s not about the data; It’s about how we use it. If we, as a society, infuse our work with a sense of integrity, we have the potential to unlock a world of information. Big data has the potential to improve everything from our daily life, to all of humanity—on a global scale.