Monopolization of Data
An insight concern arises from a character about the possible consequences of a futuristic social network platform in the science fiction novel, Ebocloud by Rick Moss, as the character proclaims, “All I know is that when we add something this big into our lives, we’re going to give up something equally big” (Moss 342). As a society, we are facing a rapid development of augmenting reality tools and applications that are making our daily lives more efficient in all aspects. However, this is also drastically changing the way we perform daily tasks, just as quickly. These augmenting tools or innovations have opened channels for the access and utility of big data. It has effectively created a new market where the most innovative corporations are strategically maximizing the uses and control over this space. The magnitude of big data utilization and technology is a game changer for industries, but it also poses the dilemma of how to regulate the streaming of this data, in relation to the consumer’s privacy, and how to regulate a monopolistic abuse of power in technology-oriented industries.
To understand the magnitude of big data and the way it is changing the landscape of how businesses operate, it is important to develop a greater sense of the amount of data available now and how quickly it is growing. According to IBM, “2.5 exabytes – that’s 2.5 billion gigabytes (GB) – of data was generated every day in 2012” (BBC News). This is an enormous volume of data that is taken spanning from a spectrum of GPS coordinates from cellphones to tweets published on Twitter. This is astounding, because the absorption of data is a relatively new practice. Aside from the magnitude of information collected in recent years, the most revealing potential of big data is its growth trajectory. IBM argues that “90 percent of the data that exists in the world today has been created in the last two years” (Vance 1). New innovative digital tools will emerge, from which there will be new channels of data to collect such as “sensor-equipped buildings, trains, buses, planes, bridges, and factories” to social media posts (Harvard Magazine). Just as important is the development of new methods for data organization and dissemination that companies will demand. Data collection will soon become engraved in our daily lives as we continue to build dependencies on all things digital and connected to the cloud. Therefore, as corporations make progress in the field of big data analytics, companies are quickly adapting to take full advantage of this new commodity.
Figure 1: http://www.americanis.net/2013/you-are-anonymous-and-unique-just-like-everybody-else/
Given the scale and rapid evolution of big data, major players in the most innovative technology fields are urgently positioning themselves as, “siren servers,”, which was a term coined by Jaron Lanier in his book, Who Owns the Future? According to Lanier, siren servers “gather data from the network, often without having to pay for it [and then the] data is analyzed using the most powerful available computers, run by the very best available technical people” (Lanier 50). Companies are heavily invested in developing new methods for making their businesses more efficient through raw feedback from data analytics. A survey by New Vantage Partners given to senior executives of Fortune 1000 companies seeking their inputs on company measures taken to address big data, “revealed that 91% have a big data initiative planned or in progress” (MIT Sloan Review). This reveals the enormous amount of pressure these companies are under to partake in this tool for analyzing businesses. It is no longer a trend for innovative companies, but rather, a necessity for the success of any company. Referring back to Who Owns the Future?, Lanier suggests that siren servers seek a competitive edge since the obtained “results of the analysis [from big data] are kept secret, but are used to manipulate the rest of the world to [their own] advantage” (Lanier 50).
Figure 2: http://www.edureka.co/blog/5-reasons-to-learn-hadoop/
One prime example of an aggressive push to access data is the recent agreement between Twitter and IBM to forge a partnership. IBM will fuse Twitter’s social data and integrate it with the data analytics tools, like Watson Analytics and BlueMix cloud app, which are refined projects in progress that organize big data into utility apps. In addition, IBM “will be training 10,000 consultants to write custom enterprise apps that use Twitter data” (Business Insider). The endless possibilities that can arise from a combination of IBM analytics software and “huge volumes of information Twitter generates about user’s action and opinions” are daunting (Don 1). The ultimate goal for businesses is to mine Twitter in order to “watch for a company’s name…. [or] analyzing sentiment” (Business Insider). This frenzy for mining Twitter data is lucrative enough that one may argue that it is the “gold mining” for the future.
Companies such as Twitter had many apprehensions as to how Twitter was going to create streams of revenue if they planned for an IPO. Quickly investors came to realize that Twitter was actually a very sought after company for its real time data that revealed trends among the general public. This is symbolic of the immense demand companies have to acquire sophisticated analytics from large raw databases. Twitter’s data licensing now accounts for $41 million in revenue in this past quarter’s financials. This has increased from “15.1 million for this very category last year” (Don 1). Twitter is a siren server and contains a “gold mine” of real-time data applicable spanning from media coverage teams identifying breaking news faster, to retail brand companies compiling the opinions of customers about their new released products. The International Data Corporation “predicts that the market for big data will reach $16.1 billion in 2014, growing 6 times faster than the overall information technology market” (Forbes Magazine). As the demand for big data grows, the industry in which technology oriented companies develop sophisticated solutions for the storage, analytics, and delivery of valuable data trends will become completely saturated and competitive.
So in this transformational era of information technology and data, the issues of regulation and transparency have inevitably become more prevalent. In speaking about the attraction of companies and corporations to this movement, it is important to address whether these tools augment or jeopardize the lives of consumers. It is easy to pinpoint and understand the benefits for consumers spanning from GPS navigation systems to Google glasses producing language translations real-time. These innovative technologies have been making the daily lives of individuals more efficient and automated.
However, an underlying concern about big data is the concentration of wealth that can emerge if big data is mined and refined into a valuable commodity. Holding enormous sets of raw data or generating software programs for data analytics are two new forms of generating significant revenue for companies. From the perspective of corporations and government agencies, it is always more beneficial to have more information on the general population. This poses a conflict of interest, because if it is beneficial to gain more insight on consumers, it is not in the best interests of these larger conglomerates to restrict themselves from over reaching for personal information. A recent news outbreak of the Edward Snowden case reveals various operations that the National Security Agency (NSA) performed in attempts to prevent terrorist attacks. Snowden leaked the government program called XKeyscore, which is the NSA’s “top-secret program that essentially makes available everything you’ve ever done on the Internet — browsing history, searches, content of your emails, online chats, even your metadata — all at the tap of the keyboard” (CNN News). This case demonstrates hidden truths about the full scope of data usage from higher-level government entities that, depending on each individual, may or may not be an invasion of privacy. This is a more extreme example of lack of transparency with regard to who has access to data and how they utilize this data can lead to concentrated power that is unbeknownst to the general public.
Big data is now an extremely valuable commodity and as companies realize the intrinsic value behind data, it is crucial to create a more unambiguous and systematic set of rules for its use. The Harvard Business Review Staff made a great parallel between the rapid growth potential of big data and the financial industry development; “starting in the 1800s, it was basically unregulated, and we had booms and busts that destroyed huge swaths of the economy and ruined many families and communities. That’s where we are with personal data” (Harvard Business Review). Society needs to learn from our historical past and realize that rapid growth in a new sector generates new problems that need to be controlled and prevented. Regulation can generate greater company trust and can ultimately lead to more suitable governance to protect the usage of personal data and securitize data from hacking infiltrations.
A culminating example of how big data analytics has affected the financial services industry is strategy by firms to use high frequency trading algorithms that take advantage of latency arbitrage to extract a small profits anticipating trades by institutional investors. These high frequency techniques require big data analytics to perform price discovery and essentially analyze large volumes of real time streams of order flows from different exchanges to buy the wanted assets milliseconds before and sell it directly to the interested investors at a penny or less than the higher price. These aggressive techniques coupled with little regulation policies led to the Flash Crash of 2010, where the “American share and future indices went into a seemingly inexplicable tailspin, falling 10% in a matter of minutes” (The Economist). The major problem was the use of faulty algorithms, but the underlying cause that I am alluding to, is the lack of regulation and preventive measures to protect this.
Figure 3: http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/01/markets/SEC_CFTC_flash_crash/
The regulation of data is imperative for the prevention of big data monopoly corporations. This is a grave dilemma that Lanier mentions in his novel, Who Owns the Future?, Lanier states that, “the perfect investment [big data] will quickly anneal into an impermeable and unchallengeable position, by nature a monopoly in its domain.” (Lanier 60). The power behind big data analytics creates a perpetual cycle of wealth and advantage over other competitors with less financial resources and insights on their respective markets. This future creation of stability and consistency that can be derived by companies that concentrate in social networks, search engines, and online retail will disrupt many industries in an unfavorable manner, because “the total amount of risk in the market as a whole stays the same, perhaps, but it’s not distributed evenly” (Lanier 138). This implies that the success of a few powerful players in the market will obliterate the small players and lead to a divergence in power. The power will be centralized among a few giant corporations.
The concentration of information enabled by the relatively unrestricted big data industry is one major downside to the lives of consumers, because it will limit the choices consumers have in any given industry. It is dangerous to have “a private entity controlling vast reserves of personal data [which] possesses predictive powers enabling it to have an unequal stake in the shared system” (Harvard International Review). Thus, unregulated big data acquisition is troublesome, as those few companies will consistently overtake the future profits and growth opportunities.
The second dilemma that is associated with the rapid growth of innovation and big data use is the dependency that these advances create on the general population. Not only are the innovative companies solidifying a monopolization of power and wealth, but are also inherently enticing consumers to their technological solutions. One illustration of this dependency created is the use of the Google search engine. It is inconceivable to imagine doing searches in a manual way. Corporations with tools such as search engines create a divergence in power, as consumers cannot avoid utilizing these innovations going forward.
The monopolization of industries coupled with the integration of new technology in our daily activities harnesses a great deal of influence over consumers that can never be undone. The transformations in our daily lives cannot be easily reverted. One example of this is the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS). If it were reported that the personal data collection taken from the consumers was being inappropriately used, it would be difficult to sustain a collective boycott movement of GPS systems and for adherents to revert to the use of maps. The consolidation of power that big data has uncovered eclipses the power of the consumer to fight against any company in technology driven markets. The restriction of choice for the consumer makes them vulnerable to any changes that corporations choose to make.
Furthermore, many times, consumers are oblivious to the subtle changes that occur. The common individual is not aware about the privacy policies and terms of agreement and “individuals are ill-placed to make responsible decisions about their personal data given” (Stanford Law Review). I stress this, because as we witnessed in the progression of the Ebocloud technology from a volunteering social network to a mind and body-controlling network, the changes were elusive at first, but quickly evolved to drastic transformations. In the same manner, big data is only at the beginning stages of its own evolution in terms of power and usage, but it demonstrates flashes of it quickly becoming a central necessity for corporations to remain current and thrive. So as a society, we are in the primary phase of the integration of big data collection. Therefore, it is imperative to control the possible risks now, rather than wait too long and allow the escalation of centralized wealth and influence to subdue any possible regulatory resistance.
Figure 4: http://sesarchcloudcomputing.techtarget.com/definition/big-data-Big-Data
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger revealed that, “the amount of stored information grows four times faster than the world economy, while the processing power of computers grows nine times faster. Little wonder that people complain of information overload. Everyone is whiplashed by the changes” (Mayer-Schönberger, 9). We are evolving faster than ever before, due to the exponential growth in technological creations and innovations, but we have to begin to analyze the responsibility that comes with that, not only corporations, but also, responsible consumers. In Ebocloud, a blog posted referencing the novel, The Plague by Camus, in relation to the effects of the cloud, suggested that we “Try substituting “the cloud” for “plague” as you read. Thus week by week the prisoners of plague put up what fight they could. Some even contrived to fancy they were still behaving as free men and had the power of choice” (Moss 229). I used this technique by replacing “the plague” with “big data”. I do not mean to associate big data to a plague, but use this connection to build awareness that we are quickly becoming prisoners of big data corporations that are taking advantage of the lack of regulations in this sphere. It is therefore imperative that we not only focus on the benefits of the newfound technology, but also make an effort to expose the arising predicaments and address the ethical dilemmas in response to innovation and the use of big data.
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