What is “big data”? Kate Crawford, a Microsoft principal researcher, describes it as troves of information collected by retailers, mobile-phone carriers, Internet companies, and others that is put into a massive database. Aaron Pressman, “Big Data Could Create an Era of Big Discrimination,” Yahoo Finance, Oct. 14, 2013. If you’ve recently purchased a car, acquired stock, opened a credit card, selected an electricity provider, or downloaded a mobile application, chances are high that big data played a role in predicting your purchasing behavior, because that’s what big data does. It allows companies to use large volumes of data (color preferences, purchase location, age, gender, etc.) to fit a specific objective—e.g., the likelihood that you will select one car over another. Sean Michael Kerner, “How Does Big Data Impact the Network?” Enterprise Networking Planet, Mar. 29, 2013; Adrian Lane, “The Big Data Is the New Normal,” Dark Reading, Sept. 24, 2013. A company can literally input its marketing goals and receive pieces of information about consumer habits to achieve that goal. This information is then searched by computers to learn and obtain information about consumer patterns. Due to the ease and ability to customize data to meet specific needs, members of the information-technology (IT) world believe it to be the “next logical step in data management” and highly favor its use. Lane, supra. This appears to sound like a pretty practical and beneficial database; however, some other members of the IT world are challenging us to take a closer look into this massive system of information. Researchers such as Crawford believe that big data isn’t really worth the hype and believe it is potentially discriminatory because banks, retailers, car dealerships, and even local government agencies can use collected data to become highly selective about who receives information about their services and offerings.
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