What is Big Data?

As the name implies, big data is a term used to describe the large volumes of data collected by various organisations. This data is analysed in many ways to find patterns, correlations, and other insights about users. Though often so large that it can’t be processed using traditional software, it’s not only the volume of data that is significant.

Industry analyst Doug Laney used ‘the three V’s’ to explain the big data system, back in 2001 👇

1. Volume

Data is collected from a variety of sources, and the amount of available data is growing at an increasing rate.

2. Velocity

This refers to the speed of data processing, which continues to improve. For example, social media apps allow companies to collect vast amounts of data at speeds that would have been unheard of a decade ago, never mind in 2001.

3. Variety

Variety is the amount of data types that are collected. As with everything else, this continues to expand with each passing year.

👉 When put together, the three V’s define the concept of big data. On a small scale, it’s fairly harmless, and is an effective method of establishing what works and what doesn’t. However, the rise of social media and other online services has led to the average person giving up large amounts of personal information, which has worrying implications for the future.

After all, are you really comfortable with a variety of organisations having the lowdown on all your activities, both on- and offline? When you consider that methods of analysis are only going to become more thorough, what will the end result be? Will workplaces be safer, or will analysis speed up staff cuts and automation? Will gambing addicts be safe from a constant stream of betting adverts from companies able to target them more accurately?

In the here and now, we’ve already seen the negative side of big data analysis, for example when the infamous Cambridge Analytica illegally harvested Facebook user data to help political campaigns across the globe. This saga shows that big data use can be highly effective at persuading select users to vote a certain way, or to push a desired agenda.

Then there are social media companies like Facebook, who hoover up data that is eventually packaged and sold on. If you have any big data concerns, the first step is to limit social media use where possible.

It’s hard to describe the sheer size of big data. It can consist of petabytes (1,024 terabytes) or exabytes (1,024 petabytes) holding records about millions of people, or more detailed profiles about a smaller number.

Big data is a serious privacy concern, and it doesn’t matter if you have nothing to hide. Companies, organisations, and governments want to know everything about us, and they’re able to process more data at ever-increasing speeds. On the other hand, it’s hard to blame them, as the use of big data has proved highly effective in the past. 

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