The Big Data transformation trend is spreading across the spectrum of contemporary society. From areas as diverse as retail, education, healthcare and politics, this data-driven revolution is redefining the way we live, work, and play. Notwithstanding the myriad of benefits Big Data brings with it, there are still people who consider this always-on data harvesting as an invasion of privacy.
To explore and analyse Big Data requires information that is both accurate and understandable; something far beyond the capabilities of the on-site databases currently in use by most companies. Subsequently, many businesses are turning towards new technologies such as Hadoop, Spark and NoSQL databases to meet the needs of their rapidly growing data demands.
This however, does come with inherent risks such as the invasion of personal information, where customers’ information is collected and utilised without consent. Fortunately, solution providers equipped to meet the requirements of the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be positioned to provide enhanced analytical solutions to organisations. This ensures that businesses utilising these solutions have peace of mind that the data analytics provided are compliant and ‘clean’.
Companies are making use of predictive analytics to better understand customers and leverage off the information they acquire. This information facilitates value-adds such as customer discounts, customised solutions, improved products and service offerings , increased profits and the ability to predict future-buying trends.
As a result, the balance of power between individuals and data collectors is also shifting significantly. Whilst opportunities are being created by this shift, risks and consequences are also increasing alongside it, which raises ethical questions surrounding what is acceptable, and what is not.
Big data can be invasive if it results in:
- Discrimination on the basis of predictive analytics, used to determine insights about individuals and their ability to find jobs, get credit and obtain clearance.
- Embarrassment when confidential information is leaked in a data breach.
- Lack of transparency from companies regarding data harvested from individuals not classed as customers, who are likely unaware that such data has been collected.
- Data brokerage where unprotected and incorrect data profiles are purchased and sold outside the standard legal framework.
Information undoubtedly drives digital transformation, but much of this information is highly personal. Thus, new privacy laws dictate that there should be consent, control and clear explanations to ensure individuals have a better understanding of what can and cannot be done with their personal information. The GDPR and POPI provide a framework of due diligence in the act of collecting and utilising personal information, whilst ensuring that security measures are in place to safeguard the access, loss, damage, modification and destruction of such information.
But what does this mean for digitalisation and innovation, which are required to ensure the survival of the fourth industrial age? Will POPI and GDPR cut off or severely restrict the blood flow to the beating heart of Big Data?
The level of data required to significantly enhance customer service is staggering. Collection of such rich data on this scale is made more difficult by privacy laws. These laws intend to grant individuals complete control over their information, ensuring the line between what is considered ‘invasive’ or not becomes an individual choice. This can become conflicting, where an individual could choose to share their data for the promise of a more customised experience. This could mean increased value, reduced risk of fraud and improved, better informed healthcare decisions. Conversely, they could insist on reserving their rights to withhold personal data out of a concern for the loss of privacy.
Whichever end of the spectrum an individual lies, any decisive action regarding this issue will have significant impacts on the role that Big Data plays in modern society.