Is Big Data a Big Deal?

Is Big Data another way of saying predatory online marketing? You decide.
Is Big Data another way of saying predatory online marketing? You decide.

Big data as the name suggests is all about large volumes of information. More and more schools, government agencies, retailers, and other organizations are analyzing big data to learn more about people. Big data players include Amazon, Facebook, and Google, to name a few. Naturally, consumer profiling by these and other companies has led many to be a little concerned about issues around privacy and has left other consumers frustrated because of what they see as predatory online marketing. Think about those ads that follow consumers everywhere online following an innocent search on Google or Bing. Yeah, that’s big data analytics at work. But is Big Data bad or good? We’ll let you decide…

The Potentially Bad Stuff…

  • Exclusion Based on Highly Sensitive Data: In a 2016 U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report (Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?), the federal agency examines big data and fairness. The report raises concerns that companies may be making decisions by “incorporating errors and biases” into big data analytics. Such decisions, according to the report, could result in “potential discriminatory harms.” One example given is how analytics from social media “likes” could reveal sensitive information about consumers’ political affiliation, faith, and recreational habits (e.g. smoking, drinking, etc.). Sensitive information taken out of context could lead to excluding consumers from employment opportunities, services, and products.
  • Bad Guys Trying to Dupe Seniors (and Others) into Making Poor Decisions: Big data can be used by individuals and companies looking to scam consumers as well. The same FTC report gives examples of companies obtaining lists from people who respond to sweepstakes or ailing seniors. Apparently, these consumers may be the most susceptible to being victims of fraud.
  • Low-Income Consumers Getting Bad Deals: A Huffington Postarticle from Nathan Newman explains how big data can harm low-income shoppers. The article points to “free services” that come with the high-price of giving away personal information so that companies that use big data can “exploit” consumers. Examples of this is when finance companies single out low-income consumers by using targeted ads made possible by big data and then markets high-interest rate services such as payday and subprime loans to the audience. Big data obtained from free services and mobile apps can also lead to “price discrimination” where some consumers pay more for the exact same service. Well, that’s definitely not good.

The Potentially Good Stuff…

  • Better Products: Many companies are investing more and more marketing dollars to track what people say and do online—collecting information about what consumers like, dislike, and need. Data collected help companies launch new versions of cool stuff. People who get excited about the latest Samsung or Apple update can probably thank big data analytics for those innovations and new features like a smartphone that keeps working even after you drop it in water. What took them so long to get that one to market? *smiles*
  • Better Service: People do business with people they like. Big data helps companies, schools, and other organizations to tailor a better and arguably more personal experience. Writer Larry Alton points to the fact that organizations that leverage big data get their information from surveys, social media, and other online reactions to offer the best service based on your particular pet-peeves and preferences.
  • Better Deals & Decisions: Many consumers also benefit from websites and apps that use big data to pull together useful information. Think comparison shopping. For instance, couples who are planning to marry get a better idea of costs from a sitethat estimates expenses of weddings. Many motorists cringe when there are signs of auto mechanical issues. Well, there are places online to get accurate information on how much drivers should be paying for auto repairs. There’s Nextag® site that gives shoppers the power to get the best deal on millions, that’s right millions of products. These convenient tools are all powered by big data analytics.

Your Thoughts…

Like any promising technology, big data analytics can be used to enhance customer experience or exploit vulnerable people. We’d love to hear from you: (1) What are your thoughts on big data?  (2) How much information are you willing to give up to improve your customer experience or bring new products to market? (3) Where does your privacy fit into the big data conversation?