What is Big Data?
by Erin Phillips
Big Data has been a hot topic gaining popularity in the media. But what is it? Big Data is a term for the collection of data sets that are large, complex, structured and unstructured. In the past, it has often been unmanageable and difficult to process using traditional database management tools and data processing applications but that has changed with increased computing power. Big Data is characterized by the sheer quantity of data generated, how fast the data is being produced and processed, and the variety of new sources of data.
Businesses have been hiring specialists and financing new technology hoping to gain the ability to organize and access these previously unimaginable amounts of data with the goal understanding relationships within and between the data. Finding relationships in the data may provide the business with valuable insights that can allow for better decision-making, which has the benefits of cost reductions, reduced risk, and greater operational efficiencies. Specific applications of Big Data analysis will vary depending on the business and the industry.
Businesses are not the only beneficiaries of Big Data mining. Individuals whose information is being used can get a direct benefit. For example, Netflix and Amazon provide highly customized recommendations to consumers based on analysis of their previous selections. Communities benefit from Big Data analysis when users of a similar product or residents of the same geographical area report adverse events of product usage or services. Finally, society benefits when Big Data is analyzed for national security purposes.
Although Big Data may have multiple applications, there are many potential limitations arising from legal issues of security, privacy, and consent. There has been recent controversy about the National Security Agency (NSA) and data collection. The NSA has collected information from organizations such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skpe, and Facebook. However, there are many private organizations that are collecting data as well. There are rumors that there has been enough momentum to get some legislation passed on data privacy, especially after the recent Target hacking incident in late 2013. Members of Congress have expressed interest in laws protecting consumers’ data from being stolen and passed quickly. There are already four proposals this year for data security and breach notification legislation. However, potential legislation will be met head-on by retail and banking industries that are worried about increased regulations and the effects on their businesses.