Mystery of Big Data’s Parallel Universe Brings Fear, and a Thrill

5. June 2012

Date: 05-06-2012
Source: The New York Times

Not long ago, a woman in Tacoma, Wash., received a suggestion from Facebook that she “friend” another woman. She didn’t know the other woman, but she followed through, as many of us have, innocently laying our cookie-crumb trails through cyberspace, only to get a surprise.

On the other woman’s profile page was a wedding picture — of her and the first woman’s husband, now exposed for all the cyberworld to see as a bigamist.

And so it goes in the era of what is called Big Data, in which more and more information about our lives — where we shop and what we buy, indeed where we are right now — the economy, the genomes of countless organisms we can’t even name yet, galaxies full of stars we haven’t counted, traffic jams in Singapore and the weather on Mars tumbles faster and faster through bigger and bigger computers down to everybody’s fingertips, which are holding devices with more processing power than the Apollo mission control. Big Data probably knows more about us than we ourselves do, but is there stuff that Big Data itself doesn’t know it knows? Big Data is watching us, but who or what is watching Big Data? Read the rest of this entry »


How Big Data Gets Real

5. June 2012

Date: 05-06-2012
Source: The New York Times

The business of Big Data, which involves collecting large amounts of data and then searching it for patterns and new revelations, is the result of cheap storage, abundant sensors and new software. It has become a multibillion-dollar industry in less than a decade. Growing at speed like that, it is easy to miss how much remains to do before the industry has proven standards. Until then, lots of customers are probably wasting much of their money.

There is essential work to be done training a core of people in very hard problems, like advanced statistics and software that ensures data quality and operational efficiency. Broad-based literacy in the uses of data should probably happen too, along with new kinds of management, better tools for reading the information, and privacy safeguards for corporate and personal information.

That such a huge number of tasks are taking place is a good indicator that, even with the hype, Big Data is a big deal. Read the rest of this entry »


Rethinking Privacy in an Era of Big Data

5. June 2012

Date: 05-06-2012

Source: The New York Times

Some years ago an engineer at Google told me why Google wasn’t collecting information linked to people’s names. “We don’t want the name. The name is noise.” There was enough information in Google’s large database of search queries, location, and online behavior, he said, that you could tell a lot about somebody through indirect means.

The point was that actually finding out people’s names isn’t necessary for sending them targeted ads. It can probably lead to trouble, as Google’s own adventures in Wi-Fi snooping show. Even without knowing your name, increasingly, everything about you is out there. Whether and how you guard your privacy in an online world we are building up every day has become increasingly urgent.

Privacy is a source of tremendous tension and anxiety in Big Data,” Read the rest of this entry »