The era of ‘big data’ is still very new, and people and businesses are still figuring it out.
The conflict of ‘big data’ vs consumer privacy is far from settled.
We will continue to be surprised by the possibilities and limitations of ‘big data’.
It’s been said that the most valuable resource is information. Never has this theory proved to be more valid than the period in which we currently live. Today, we have more information than ever. Every tweet, post, purchase and transaction leave a permanent print in the digital ether. But the importance of all that information extends beyond simply being able to do more or know more. The quantitative shift leads to a qualitative shift. More data allows us to do new things that weren’t possible before.
So with the endless overflow of information coming from all corners of the world, here are five ways data and privacy could shape the future of business and the markets.
Many manufacturing companies are now facing the stark reality in that they have two choices for survival—replace workers with machines wholesale, or internalize the agility of the market by flattening hierarchies. Companies including John Deere and Daimler are pursuing the latter, because humans will continue to have advantages over machines. But it’s important to note that serious job growth will not occur without a significant disruption to the current methodology and infrastructure.
2. Period of disruption
Advances in technology often lead to job creation, even if it comes after a temporary period of disruption. The creation of jobs simply takes time, which certainly was the case during the Industrial Revolution. While it certainly was an unpredictable time of dislocation, it eventually led to improved lives and a huge increase in jobs. However, some industries simply never recover from change. When tractors and automobiles replaced horse-drawn plows and carriages, the need for horses in the economy basically ended.
3. Political movements
The Industrial Revolution fostered political change and gave rise to new economic philosophies and political movements. It’s not much of an intellectual stretch to predict that new political philosophies and social movements will arise around big data, robots, computers, and the Internet, as well as the effect of these technologies on the economy and representative democracy. Recent debates over income inequality and the Occupy movement seem to point in that direction.
Privacy has always been an issue. However, it’s proven a much greater challenge in the big data era. The entire concept of securing personal information changes when potential privacy threats happen regularly. It also changes when the act of collecting data happens invisibly and passively, as the byproduct of other services, rather than overtly and actively. It’s hard to imagine how classic privacy law will work in that world, or how a person whose privacy has been violated would take action—or even be aware of the situation.
A basis of privacy law around the world is the principle, enshrined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development privacy guidelines, that an entity should discard data once its primary purpose has been fulfilled. But the whole point of big data is that we ought to save data forever because we can’t know today all the valuable ways it might be used tomorrow.
5. New economic philosophies
The new wave of big data has cultivated the idea that data is displacing money as the way both consumers and businesses shape the broader market. This data economy isn’t neutral—it gives atomized workers and small entrepreneurs a huge leg up. They can increasingly mimic the informed decision-making of firms that use legions of humans to process data for a small cadre of leaders. Such hierarchical organizations will be increasingly swamped by decentralized markets, where actors can seize opportunity much faster. One example is happening in China’s Chongqing province, where a cluster of tiny fabricators is producing cheap, quality motorcycles that have decimated Honda’s global market share.
The big-data world is still very new, and, as a society, we’re not very good at handling all the data that we can collect now. We also can’t foresee the future. Technology will continue to surprise us, and the only thing that is certain is change.