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Big Data and the Digitisation of Everything

You have probably heard about Big Data and how it is changing our world. Big Data includes all the data that is available over the internet and, of course, the amount of data is enormous:

  • Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have created huge amounts of personal data over the last decade, including text and images
  • TV and radio stations collect and broadcast huge amounts of data, as do online providers of sport and movies
  • Commercial sites such as Amazon, department stores, wine merchants, garden centres, etc. also collect huge amounts of personal data.
  • Telecoms sites also store huge amounts of information, often including all your emails, phone calls and text messages.
  • Financial organisations such as banks, mortgage companies, insurers and share dealers also generate very large amounts of data.
  • Many other organisations collect large amounts of online data, including charities, universities, religions, travel agents, the police using surveillance and road speed cameras, government departments including tax collections, scientific laboratories, gyms and health clubs, etc., etc.

Much has been written about Big Data, including its Volume, Variety and Velocity. However, “the real game changer is the connection and digitization of everything. Every portfolio is affected: finance, transport, housing, food, environment, industry, health, welfare, defense, education, science, and more” [1].

Most digital data is held by private organisations and not available to the public. Personal data has huge value, e.g. Facebook is worth $ 559 billion in July 2019 and has 2.38 billion users, making the data worth about $235 per user.

Commercial activity involving personal data has evolved rapidly in an almost unregulated environment, enabling many abuses and undesirable practices including sexting, revenge porn, online gambling addiction, trolls and online hate.

In the next step we will see how the European Community is trying to regulate online use of personal data through its 2018 reform of EU data protection rules and the new General Data Protection Regulations, (GDPR). “Stronger rules on data protection mean people have more control over their personal data and businesses benefit from a level playing field” [2].

What do you think?

Has the world changed with the “digitisation of everything”? Is our use of ‘free’ web services a Faustian bargain that we may regret, or is trading our personal data for free services a great deal? Do you know of people with bad experiences resulting from their online data? Do you know of groups or families whose lives have been greatly enriched by online media such as Skype, WhatsApp, and FaceBook?


[1] Jeffrey Johnson, Peter Denning, David Sousa-Rodrigues, Kemal A. Delic Big data: big data, digitization, and social change -Ubiquity Symposium_, Volume 2017, Number December (2017), Pages 1-8 DOI: 10.1145/3158335, https://ubiquity.acm.org/article.cfm?id=3158335

[2] European Commission. 2018 reform of EU data protection rules

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Data Science with Google Analytics: Bridging Business and Technical Experts

UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus