This is the final part of a three part series based on a talk given for the Institute of Practical Philosophy at Vancouver Island University in April 2015.
The series includes:
Part 1 – Introduction to big data
Part 2 – Examples of using big data
Part 3 – Unpacking (some of) the issues …
The views expressed in this series are my own.
Unpacking (some of) the issues …
In the second part of this series, we talked about examples of how big data can be used, from credit card fraud to government surveillance. In this third and final part, let’s change gears again and look at some of the issues surrounding big data and the surveillance of everything.
Living with big data
“A surveillance society is not only inevitable, it’s worse. It’s irresistible”–Jeff Jonas
Originally made in 2011, this quote is now stale. In 2015, we are talking about a future that has already happened, and we are perhaps only now realizing that what has happened is much more invasive than we could have anticipated. The examples given here would not be possible at this scale without big data technology and they aren’t futuristic examples; they exist here and now.
Technology is changing the world, perhaps much faster than you and I can adapt. Change in this case is not about new gadgets but about a fundamental change to many facets of our lives. And yet, many of our privacy laws were written before the big data revolution. Just because you can get the data legally, does not mean it is ethical to do so if outmoded and outdated privacy laws are essentially lagging behind. The example of Target’s targeted marketing indicates even the company itself realized at some point that what it was doing was bordering on creepy. Legal yes, but also borderline Orwellian.
So why is a surveillance society irresistible? Simple:
Companies know if they can extract more insight from data faster than their competitors, they’re going to win–Bill McColl
These companies might counter any claims about becoming Big Brother by saying that they are really just creating a better internet experience for you, the consumer who prefers relevant ads related to your interests. Similarly, for governments, there is a competitive national security advantage if they gain better insights before other nations or hostile groups.