Big Data & Civil Rights

by Angela Guess

Alistair Croll of O’Reilly Radar recently opined that Big Data is this generation’s civil rights issue — we just don’t know it yet. He writes, “Data doesn’t invade people’s lives. Lack of control over how it’s used does. What’s really driving so-called big data isn’t the volume of information. It turns out big data doesn’t have to be all that big. Rather, it’s about a reconsideration of the fundamental economics of analyzing data. For decades, there’s been a fundamental tension between three attributes of databases. You can have the data fast; you can have it big; or you can have it varied. The catch is, you can’t have all three at once.”

He continues, “I’d first heard this as the “three V’s of data”: Volume, Variety, and Velocity. Traditionally, getting two was easy but getting three was very, very, very expensive. The advent of clouds, platforms like Hadoop, and the inexorable march of Moore’s Law means that now, analyzing data is trivially inexpensive. And when things become so cheap that they’re practically free, big changes happen — just look at the advent of steam power, or the copying of digital music, or the rise of home printing. Abundance replaces scarcity, and we invent new business models.”

Croll goes on, “In the old, data-is-scarce model, companies had to decide what to collect first, and then collect it. A traditional enterprise data warehouse might have tracked sales of widgets by color, region, and size. This act of deciding what to store and how to store it is called designing the schema, and in many ways, it’s the moment where someone decides what the data is about. It’s the instant of context. That needs repeating: You decide what data is about the moment you define its schema.”

Read more here.

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