How Too Much Data Could Spell Trouble for Consumers
June 01, 2017
By: Larry Alton
For most intents and purposes, data is a good thing. Having more information about the world around us helps scientists and engineers solve bigger problems, it gives us more accurate and thorough projections of everything from weather patterns to stock market fluctuations, and can even improve both our safety and our standards of living.
However, the overabundance of consumer data could ultimately be problematic for consumers.
The Problem with Too Much Data
These are just some of the problems that may arise with the availability of inordinate amounts of data:
- Reduced privacy. One of the biggest concerns with the rise of big data is the role of user privacy. Most new applications require you to consent to have information collected before you can use their technology; Google, Facebook, and Apple (News - Alert) are notable examples. For now, the information collected here is mostly harmless, used to help advertisers serve you with ads that are more relevant to your interests. However, on a bigger scale, that privacy infringement could grow to become invasive.
- Fewer opportunities. Already, people are missing out on opportunities thanks to impersonal forms of data analysis. For example, many banks refuse to give out loans or offer higher-interest secured loans to people with bad credit scores. This makes it almost impossible for anyone with a poor financial history to start a new business, buy a house, or make forward financial strides in other areas. When more data is available, those who have access to opportunities will have access to even more opportunities, while those without will be pushed even further away.
- Quantification of the unquantifiable. The availability of data could also force major changes to how we think about certain psychological or sociological concepts, making us rethink unquantifiable concepts as quantifiable ones. For example, people may begin subjectively rating others in a measurable way, assigning numbers to subjective feelings or “gut” intuitions. Though limited in its ramifications, this change could fundamentally transform how we think about each other and ourselves.
- Criminal potential. The FBI has announced that it’s working on collecting a massive international database on biometric signatures, enabling it to identify almost anyone based on their fingerprints, ear shapes, and other unique personal data. This could feasibly solve more crimes, and solve them faster, but it could also open the door to more criminal activity. What happens if a criminal were able to get ahold of this massive, personal data? It would be incredibly easy to steal someone’s identity, and take over their entire life, just by having access to this stored data.
- Societal mechanization. This problem is an abstract and hypothetical one, but it could have lasting consequences. Relying exclusively on data to make our decisions could result in the mechanization of society, in multiple applications. Businesses will start to make decisions based purely on logical outputs, which will reduce some of the rarer, spark-inducing incidents that drive society forward. For example, a business might only create a new product that has a 75 percent chance of success or higher, rather than taking a risk on a truly novel idea. Does this sound dystopian and unlikely to you? In some circles, it’s already happening; some blame the “blandness” of the Hollywood movie industry on the fact that investors only want to back movies with a sure chance of success, recycling old ideas ad infinitum.
Is There a Line?
If there is such a thing as “too much” data, then how much is too much? By 2025, we’re projected to create more than 180 zettabytes—180 trillion gigabytes—annually. By comparison, we’re barely creating 10 zettabytes annually now. So where do we draw the line, if we draw one at all?
Though there are problems associated with an overabundance of data, there are too many advantages to try and stifle the development of better data analysis tools (and more data in general). Instead, we need to work with data engineers to address these concerns proactively, and as consumers, be aware that these problems exist. The more you know about the world of big data, the less susceptible you’ll be to these potential issues.
Edited by Alicia Young