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The Spectre of Big Data

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The new James Bond movie, Spectre, has in recent days prompted an interesting debate surrounding the availability of mass information, otherwise known as ‘Big Data’.

But what is Big Data?

According to Forbes it is ‘a collection of data that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis’. Why is James Bond relevant in all of this?

Well, the senior spook character wishes to replace the 00 programme with a vast computer surveillance operation instead – and this is all very relevant in real life.

The Governments proposal to introduce the ‘investigatory powers bill’, commonly known as the ‘Snooper Charter’, is an insight into a world where information is power.

Richard Berry, the spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, provided assurances that the police know when to stop, and that although they want access to everyone’s entire internet history, it would be ‘far too intrusive’ to access the content of those internet searches.

This seems contradictory and frankly a lie when you consider that we marketers have been targeting users based on their search history through cookies, to great success for some time.

We have been on the end of several marketing phone calls this week – as we are clearly on various lists as a potential lead.

Whilst admittedly some were of interest to us, we have very little idea as to how they got our details.

As a user, we enjoy and have come to require all the hard work being done for us with relevant offers being received but this is only made possible by specific targeted campaigns aimed at you through a variety of data.

But for many, we have very little idea as to who actually is in possession of our details and this is seen as a gross violation of our privacy and personal freedom. After all, that information is ours is it not?

How ‘Big Data’ is defined is vital to answering this question. According to Forbes, information is separated into unstructured and multi-structured data.

Unstructured data comes from information that is typically text-heavy. Metadata, Twitter tweets, and other social media posts are good examples of unstructured data as they are typically on public platforms.

As a user, you are putting that information out into the public sphere for others to see, so any expectation of privacy is lost.

Multi-structured data is a variety of data formats and types, and can be derived from interactions between people and machines, such as web applications or social networks.

A great example is web log data, which includes a combination of text and visual images along with structured data like form or transactional information.

As marketers enhance the customer experience across devices, websites, and social platforms—multi-structured data will continue to evolve, and importantly, this data will continue to be used to make each user’s experience more tailored towards the individual. This may be through Google search website preferences, Twitter account suggestions or personalised adverts.

In this information age, it seems that privacy is becoming less of a priority. Social media is becoming more prevalent and as a result users are thrusting their private lives into the public sphere.

For marketers, this information age means their decisions are more informed, which ultimately benefits the user. The question we want to pose, does it matter that privacy and personal freedom is directly impacted as a result or is it a necessary sacrifice?

Or will the opportunity to have 121 individual, tailored offers in the future – using Big Data – outweigh the loss of privacy?

Time will tell how our ‘love hate’ relationship with Big Data will play out.

Josh Hamit

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