I’ve spent the last two days at a Socialising Big Data workshop at the futuristic IT University Copenhagen. Big Data is one of those trendy all encompassing buzz-words that Â refers to the proliferation of data gathered everyday on all of us, fromÂ our foodÂ purchasing, health services access, sleep and exercise patternsÂ to Grindr hookups. This information can be used for anything from predictiveÂ epidemic preparation (like google flue trends) to just-in-timeÂ manufacturing.
Every time you use Maps, Run Keeper, or Twitter, catch the bus, go to the doctor, use public rubbish bins, listen to music, read your email or use your credit card, your information is being saved and analysed.Â Facebook even has plansÂ toÂ listen to our conversations through our own phonesâ€™ microphone every time we use their App. There is some lip service paid to ethicsÂ and security, but with technological developments fast outstripping developments in law, on top of theÂ recent revelations of the NSA and Yahoo breaches, no-one can ever know who hasÂ access to ourÂ ‘private’ information. The only way to avoid the hungry eyes of Big Brother would be not to partake in these modern conveniences. But even so your information can still turn up in the public domain.
When I moved to Sweden I was mildly disconcerted to find my personal detailsÂ online. Yes I am 30, single, and live above a kebab shop. No rose tinted glasses onÂ Google. Also that is my actual salary.
I could email The AuthoritiesÂ and ask them to take this information down, but for some reason I haven’t.
There is some part of me that believes in radical transparency. If government and financial institutions keep tabs on me, why not everyone else? In the words of American policy intellectual Samuel P. Huntington â€œPower remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.â€(inÂ Chomsky, 2014).Â If everyone knows everything then there are no secrets to hide. When there are no secrets, asymmetry of power can beÂ balanced.
Salary negotiations are a great example of this, in Sweden the difference between men and women’s economicÂ participationÂ is 94% compared to theÂ 60% world average (World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report, 2013).
If everyone’s data is included in research, can this lead to more representative depictions of reality, and can avoid special interest groups perpetuating power inequalities? Or does big dataÂ lead to furtherÂ exploitation of the powerless?