Big Data // Big Data Analytics
Commentary
11/21/2013
02:06 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Big Data: Big Threat Or Big Lie?

CIOs can help shape big data's image by defining how government and business should use it.

Big data worries people for two opposite reasons: it's either a big threat or a big lie.

The "big threat theory" was on display during a panel discussion Friday at MIT, where the answer to the question "Is big data turning into bad data?" seemed to be yes.

Noam Chomsky, perhaps America's best-known cranky intellectual, harrumphed about the potential for a Stasi-like surveillance state. "We can be confident that any system of power -- government, Amazon, Google -- will try to use the best available technology to control and dominate and maximize their power. And they'll want to do it in secret," Chomsky said.

By invoking the Stasi (the East German secret police, for those born after 1989), Chomsky clearly isn't all that worried about big data per se. He's worried about powerful people running amok and using big data to help them do it. As for big data itself, he sounds like a typical corporate CEO: "Our problems aren't lack of access to data; it's understanding it."

[ Are human conflicts preventing your organization from using big data to its fullest potential? Read Big Data Has A Trust Problem. ]

Chomsky's fears of the US state using big data to ill effect for ordinary citizens have not been borne out by what's in the Snowden papers, said journalist and author Barton Gellman, who is one of the three people to have access to the Snowden papers and who served on the MIT panel with Chomsky. But Gellman nonetheless says we need to be concerned about the amount of data available to companies and government, and about their own ability to keep things from us.

"We become more and more transparent to government and large institutions and they become more opaque to us," Gellman said. Big data, then, could become "a one-way mirror." Smart companies will want to avoid backlash by making clear what they do with the data they collect, which is in fact the consumer's data.

According to Columbia University professor Saskia Sassen, the winners in the push for big data aren't governments but technology firms. That's pushing toward a different problem for big data: that it's perpetuated by vendor hype.

In fact, Harper Reed, President Obama's former campaign CTO, recently called big data "BS," describing it as just "a plot by vendors to sell more stuff." While he is a fan of what we can do with data, Reed told attendees at a recent education conference, "The 'big' there is purely marketing. This is about you buying expensive servers and whatnot."

There will always be some need for expensive servers "and whatnot." But most businesses don't want to spend on high-end gear and cutting-edge applications. Personally, I hate the 80/20 rule, where 80 percent of the way is good enough -- but for a lot of things in business it rings true. Ask me about the impact of "good enough" on journalism, and I'll rant about the corrosive effects of commoditized content. But most people think such content is good enough. For big data, "good enough" means data, Excel-style.

That's why we're seeing tools like SiSense, an on-chip analytics tool, gain popularity. AT&T introduced a similar tool called Nanocubes. People want to gain access to data. They are going to want access through the tools they know best, and those tend to be the tools that cost least.

Such has been the cycle of computing forever. As Tracy Kidder wrote in The Soul of a New Machine (Back Bay Books, 2000), things start out scarce, large, and expensive: "One big machine... Often it lay behind a plate glass window, people in white gowns attending it, and those who wished to use it did so through intermediaries. Users were like supplicants. The process could be annoying."

That was 1981. He could be writing about Hadoop clusters and big data today. People don't like to be annoyed. At this point, they don't like to feel cut off from information, especially now that they know just how much of their information is being hoarded.

IT doesn't have too many hot new things to offer, but big data could be one of them. That is, if the CIO can turn it into something that's not a big threat -- or a bunch of BS.

There's no single migration path to the next generation of enterprise communications and collaboration systems and services, and Enterprise Connect delivers what you need to evaluate all the options. Register today and learn about the full range of platforms, services and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. Register with code MPIWK and save $200 on the entire event and Tuesday-Thursday conference passes or for a Free Expo pass. It happens in Orlando, Fla., March 17-19.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Michael Fitzgerald
50%
50%
Michael Fitzgerald,
User Rank: Moderator
11/27/2013 | 9:05:15 AM
Re: Re : Big Data: Big Threat Or Big Lie?
What if companies treated data like it was snapchat? Disappears after a few seconds. They have it for long enough to do the analysis, but not for long enough to make them interesting to hackers, or to build profiles on customers. But if they let the customers keep the data in their own repository, or through an app like Personal.com, the company would again get short term access to the data when the customer visited next.  How much would companies really lose, compared to what they do now? 
SachinEE
50%
50%
SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2013 | 1:13:19 AM
Re : Big Data: Big Threat Or Big Lie?
@ aditshar, that is what enterprises and corporations are yet to understand that piles of data is of no use as long as you have some authenticated, automated and thorough mechanism to deal with it. Then again, for dealing with tons of data you have to be clear about your objectives what you actually want to do with this data.
SachinEE
100%
0%
SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2013 | 1:13:17 AM
Re : Big Data: Big Threat Or Big Lie?
@ Thomas Claburn, you have hit the nail on the head by talking about the context. It is aspect that nobody has yet addressed. All the concerns or questions about Big Data arise just because it has no clear context. What's worse is that nobody who can have impact seems to be taking up this context question in near future. Social and legal issues are as pertinent as commercial issues regarding Big Data.
J_Brandt
50%
50%
J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2013 | 4:30:14 PM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
BigData is only the path to the holy grail.  The grail itself is understanding and using it.
aditshar
50%
50%
aditshar,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/25/2013 | 2:24:41 AM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
problem with the data is failing to turn it into something which is both legible and practical for analysis, which is often the biggest challenge for companies.
shamika
50%
50%
shamika,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/24/2013 | 12:14:07 AM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
@aditshar you correct. Large amount of data cannot be handled manually. However the "Big Data" concept has to be clearly understood before the transformation. 
aditshar
50%
50%
aditshar,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/22/2013 | 3:52:46 AM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
Big data as a model need to get more matured before it finally hits your enterprise, dealing with tonnes of data cannot be done manually there has to be some strong automated algorithms to replace and support human decision-making.
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 6:31:33 PM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
Just the term "big data" channels the discussion toward commercial issues. When qualified, as in "big private data" or "big data about everything you did last year," the parameters of the discussion expand to include social and legal issues. We should strive to include those because "big data" should have context.
RobPreston
50%
50%
RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 3:33:42 PM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
A bit of a threat. Some proponents will lie. Nonetheless, a big opportunity. As with any technology movement of this magnitude, caveat emptor. 
Michael Fitzgerald
100%
0%
Michael Fitzgerald,
User Rank: Moderator
11/21/2013 | 2:59:17 PM
Re: Don't make it a big lie
True, nobody will get excited about variable data. But it might be more useful than Big Data. A challenge is whether vendor hype will diverge from the hard reality of analytics in a way that causes companies to avoid the technology. 
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
6 Tools to Protect Big Data
6 Tools to Protect Big Data
Most IT teams have their conventional databases covered in terms of security and business continuity. But as we enter the era of big data, Hadoop, and NoSQL, protection schemes need to evolve. In fact, big data could drive the next big security strategy shift.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - July 22, 2014
Sophisticated attacks demand real-time risk management and continuous monitoring. Here's how federal agencies are meeting that challenge.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.