Big data is the buzz word of the day and iTWire readers may appreciate a little background. Simply put you are being relentlessly tracked and stalked whether you like it or not.
- your IP address (whether fixed or mobile), what kind of computer (OS and browser)
- TV (smart TV, set top box or Foxtel - what you are watching)
- Near Field Communication chips that are becoming ubiquitous in mobiles act like an RFID chip for “humans”.
- the web sites you visit (via cookies but there are other methods tracking like toolbars and software that verge on spyware)
- key words you search for (especially a range of “watched words”)
- your location (via GPS chips in tablets and smart phones but also by phone tower triangulation which can be remarkably accurate and your fixed IP address)
- what you buy (linked to credit card or store or loyalty cards)
- the number of people in your household (estimated by the size of the electricity or water bill)
- your transport options (use of transit cards, credit cards, toll receivers)
- your physical whereabouts (facial recognition from the many security cameras as well as smart phone tracking)
- your holiday travel preferences (passport, airline tickets, hotel bookings)
- your date of birth and ethnicity (and more obscure things like religion)
- your newspaper, magazine and electronic newsletter and “tip of the day” subscriptions
- your criminal or civil records such as applying for loans
- health and insurance data
- Falcon credit card fraud detection
- Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and other social media data (the new data gold mine)
- and many, many other forms of passive surveillance collected
If that is dizzying try to comprehend that there are about seven billion people in the world and an estimated 45GB of data on each one (and growing rapidly) – that’s big data…
It has been so hard to process such large and complex amounts of data that it has not been too dangerous but all that is changing. Big Data has to date resulted in big results (anonymous, generalised outcomes).
One of the changes is the ability to actually allocate all of us a unique “key” that can tie this data together. Various countries have identification systems like the US Social Security number (SSN) – without which you basically cease to exist in the US. The US Government claims that its SSN is not part of Big Data but the reality is that once “linked” it does allow disparate records from multiple sources to be tied together. Other countries like Australia have tax file numbers and national health numbers (Medicare).
But the unofficial solution is to user a mix of your mobile phone number (there are 4.6 billion of these) cross referenced with your IP address and or your unique MAC (media access controller) address (there are 281,474,976,710,656 possible unique addresses which help to identify the manufacturer and device type i.e. phone, TV, Mac, PC, fridge etc, as well and must be used for IP connectivity to the internet or Wi-Fi or Bluetooth). It is widely believed that that the move to IPv6 addressing was covertly to enable every person with an internet presence to have their own fixed, unique identifier…
So remember – its damned hard to be anonymous any more.
Back to Big Data – I hope you are now aware of just a few of the ways information is collected.
The ethical issue is just how granular (from a “beach down to a grain of sand level”) should big data be allowed to go? Let’s say that your profile shows that you are a middle aged single man living in Parramatta - does that mean you will accept via your mobile phone locational advertising promoting Lowes latest cargo pants and baggy T’s – or worse still massage or dating services.
Governments are beginning to use big data to address planning needs – in the US there are some 84 big data programs spread across six departments running on six of the ten most powerful supercomputers in the world.
Facebook and Google sell big data to advertisers – it is no longer about social media or search engine hits as much as it is about monetising your own data to get to you…
Companies like Amazon use big data to sell you stuff. Closer to home Coles, Myer, Kmart, Target, Woolworths, Qantas, Virgin, Flight Centre and many more have their own big data programs
So far all I hear from the big data proponents is that they will use if only for good, not evil and never will it be so granular in its use as to risk exposure of the individual. Yes Virginia there really is a Santa Clause and we can trust the advertisers…
Some recent advances in computing especially in the field of massive parallel and neural networking (see ITwire article on this ) are enabling special computers to become extremely good at pattern matching i.e. making sense of massive amounts of data where it would overwhelm the average computer. Now we start to get into dangerous waters.
Who are the main players?
On a macro level Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, EMC, Software AG and HP are some of the big hardware and software players that provide the “heavy lifting” hardware and analytical tools.
On a micro level are companies like Amobee reputed to be the world’s largest mobile advertising company provide ‘revenue based advertising solutions to mobile network operators, publishers and advertisers’.
It has tools like geo-fencing that ‘takes location based targeting to the next level – as easy as dropping a pin on a map and setting a radius’. The advertiser can create a virtual fence around the location and deliver a specific advertisement to anyone entering the radius. But mix geo-fencing with Facebook (the new term for this is social-local) and other big data and you have a very powerful tool.
Let’s just say that Amobee are working with telco’s like Globe, SingTel, Vodafone, Sprint/Boost and Telkomsel ‘to provide the holy grail of advertising’ – to lift average revenue per unit (ARPU) and of course to sell advertising to big companies. PS – Amobee is owned by SingTel (Optus) and ‘is focused on creating new digital engines to delight customers and disrupt adjacent industries’.
Their clients also include multinational companies Zynga, Google, Skype, Nokia, ebay, Barnes and Nobel and Mozilla as well as select campaigns for BMW and Vertu.
I don’t know about you but I would be mighty unhappy with getting a torrent of unsolicited SMS’s or video advertisements on my smart phone – call me old fashioned. In fact I don’t want advertisements on any of my computing devices - it is bad enough to have ticker bars and Google advertisements ruining my browsing experience - yes I know “it pays for the service” so I grudgingly accept that.
There is no question that Big Data will improve the world, the only question is at what personal cost? I don’t want a computer deducing that because I prefer a Coopers Pale Ale that it should try to convert me to a Fat Yak. I don’t want a computer to decide that upon entering the supermarket that I need to buy shampoo (unlikely if you look at my photo). I think legislation prohibiting these very granular uses of Big Data would be a great vote winner (hint, hint Mr Rabbit).
I do want a computer to answer the big questions in life like how to cope with ageing demographics, where to put new roads or locate services - good use of data by hopefully responsible governments.
Then I guess there are those who are happy to have decisions made for them so let’s make it simple and ensure there is a “do not Big Data me” register that allows us to enter our IP, Mac and other unique identifiers and opt out or as they do with junk mail, rather “opt-in”.