Calls for Big Data Transparency Continue to Grow

Sometimes it’s inspiring just to sit back and look at all the incredible technology now at our fingertips. Think of all that we can do and share through social media, cloud applications, and more.

And one of the best parts is that as long as you pay for an internet connection, using tools on websites is basically free. Facebook, for example, doesn’t charge you a thing for it. Of course, the old saying comes to mind that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Yes, the likes of Facebook and Google may not charge you for using their services, but that doesn’t mean they’re not making money off of you

The way they’re doing it, however, is through data collection. This phenomenon isn’t relegated to the big tech and social network giants everybody has heard of. Many companies of all shapes and sizes are monetizing the data they’re collecting on users, and as this trend continues to grow, the call is going out for better big data transparency.

It’s worth pointing out that the simple act of collecting information on consumers isn’t necessarily new, but the amount of data collected nowadays dwarfs anything previously attempted. This can be beneficial to all parties involved. Companies can sell that data to third parties, which in turn use it to craft targeted advertisements that are more effective in converting customers. Consumers can enjoy those benefits too since ads are more geared towards them.

But such a practice does raise many questions revolving around privacy, transparency, and ethics. What happens to the data once it is collected? How will it be used? Who has access to it at which point? What type of data exactly is collected in the first place? All are good questions that need to be addressed by organizations engaged in data gathering.

Companies would be wise to fully disclose how they are using consumer data. In truth, many are already doing so, but too often it happens through long terms and conditions documents that are filled with legalese. Most people skip through the page altogether, and though they may share part of the blame for ignoring it, organizations should do a better job of presenting their data privacy policies in clearer, more concise terms. In other words, they need to be more transparent about data use. With more transparency on the part of the company, there will be less chance that data is misused.

Of course, such standards are much more difficult to enforce when the company is less forthcoming about how they intend to use big data. One Harvard University study discovered that nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of the 55 most popular apps available on Android shared personal data about users with third-party websites, all without telling the users that they were doing so. This result is troubling since it goes contrary to the very principles of big data transparency that many experts advocate. In such cases, it will be up to consumers to put a foot down, which requires asking even more questions of their own.

Those questions should be raised especially when the apps or user experience is available for free. Customers deserve to know what the company’s monetization model is and how the organization values their data. They should also be aware of other options which might forego data sharing, the tradeoff being actually paying for the product or service. Many companies use a subscription based model which removes ads, making the consumer the primary target and not a third party. Companies may also try to answer criticism by ensuring confidentiality while sharing big data, although this has gotten harder to do as algorithms have advanced. In some cases, organizations can infer a lot about a person from only a little bit of data.

As more companies turn to big data solutions, there will be louder calls to ensure big data transparency. The aim is to make sure that people’s personal data is protected and not sold without the customer knowing about it. Considering how quickly big data analytics technology is advancing, the movement to increase transparency will find it tough to keep up. Despite this challenge, however, it has become increasingly clear that a greater effort must be undertaken to hold companies accountable for how they use the data they collect.