Blog Post

Big Data: The App, The Curriculum, the Power

In an age of excitable people and easily offended internet users, the most valuable type of data that could be collected is data on what companies are collecting. Sort of like how the best power is the one that over powers the rest, the one ring to rule them all, the best Pokémon is ditto because it can turn into any of the other Pokémon. Instead of specializing in one specific type of data, your collection becomes all the more valuable when it can tell you about what type of data is being collected. Then, hypothetically, an app could be created that would inform others about the data that's being collected and by which company.

This would incite two things. First, companies may decide to force/sue/pay you to stop sharing their data. While all of these methods are possible, I’d like to think that paying you to keep quiet on their data collection might be their best option if they want to avoid the public eye. This would give you two more bits of data: the fact that they want to hide their data, and what data they're trying to hide. Either way, these are two more implicating pieces of information, giving you both value, and power (hypothetically).

The second result of this app is that people using it might learn from it. They might see who is tracking what, and begin to ask why. At first they may freak out, thinking that tracking always equals scamming. However, many might see all that the collected data has done. They might see that they do not care, for the services or conveniences that they receive in exchange for their data. We as a public audience and data labor force, might reach a new understanding of how our media/marketing/entertainment economy works.

Instead of simply exposing “evil corporations who are stealing our private information,” the real good that an app like the one I’m proposing would do is what universities are already trying to do: inform and empower. Give people the tools and the resources to come to their own conclusions, help them to understand big data and how it may already be helping them. As students in this field we learn about the uses and misuses of the data we create and how our society, our economy even, is changing around it. The everyday person, the senior, and the child, who doesn’t keep up with changing policies or technology, or who cannot know when or how to take caution with giving away their data; these are the people who would benefit from a data-informative app.

During our class, our instructor J.J. Sylvia IV has been an amazing devil's advocate, quelling our outrage at the mysterious forces that collect our data under our noses without us knowing. Not only have we learned the prevalence of data collection in almost every aspect in our daily life, but we've learned that it is not inherently malicious, and that we probably don't care anyway.

The general public, now armed with the knowledge that their data has value, might become more interested in self-tracking. During our section on the Quantified Self, our class talked about how self-trackers, step counters, productivity aids and other data recording apps are growing in popularity. It’s something that people have been using for a while now (blood-glucose meters, blood pressure monitors, scales, etc.) that they simply had not applied to the rest of their daily lives. By tracking certain aspects of their life, people feel more control, more security in their lives.

However, maybe an app is too small. The data on what types of big data is collected would inevitably be big data as well. This would create another issue that was brought up in our class as well: the inability of the public to access this big data. This big data app (now probably a website in hypothetical terms) would have to be open and available to everyone. It should be taught in high school classrooms, or in the least, high school computer labs. When I was younger, my mother and the other adults in my life knew to warn me against talking to strangers, both in real life and online. One day when I have kids of my own, I’ll be warning them about signing up for free apps or services and just expanding the old adage “nothing in life is free.”

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans have mixed feelings when it comes to opening up government data. Their survey found that while most Americans knew of the possibility of open data, and knew that the government was using it, less than 20% of those survey could cite a time when they used open data effectively or inappropriately. According to the graph, it is split almost right down the middle when it comes to public opinion one whether open data will improve government-citizen interactions.

People Have Mixed Hopes About Whether Open Data Will Improve Things.

While the conversation about big data has already existed for a while now, there is still much ambiguity about how it could be used and how to use it effectively. Many may feel that big data is something that is in a completely different realm from their everyday lives, when in fact they are the ones creating it. People do not realize that they are both the resource and consumer for big data services. Through teaching and instruction, along with open resources for education and analysis, our society can find strength within themselves to make their voice heard.

So I must say that I do not condemn companies for their data-for-services method of exchange. Honestly, it's not like we were using the fact that we prefer one restaurant over another to entertain ourselves on a quite Tuesday night. Our preferences were our own for the longest time, and they did almost nothing for us. Now they are more valuable than they have ever been. Knowing what I’m giving up, the value of my information, helps me to make better decisions about what data-for-service apps I’m willing to download.

I remember one day while my mother and I were at the mall, a women approached us, asking if I would like to participate in a survey. I was around seven at the time, and so I wanted to participate in the survey, I still had my mother’s good judgement to protect me from this potential scam. In the end, I sampled two different flavors for a new Welch’s Juice drink and received a check for eight dollars for my opinion. This blew my mind as a child, and gave me quite the ego boost. I could simply tell people about what I did and did not like and get something in return? This was probably one of the few things that groomed me into the person I was before taking my Big Data Course, living in this data-for-service economy, not giving a second thought to signing up for the latest and greatest social media site.

Currently, my Spotify app is getting the most data from me, seeing as I’ve been using it every morning while I get ready for school. I don't mind hearing ads if it means I don't have to pay the $5 or $6 to receive a version of the same service that did not play ads. I don't mind letting Spotify know that I don't want to hear a particular song, one that I’ve already put in my song list, that early in the morning if that means I’ll get a better mix of the music I already enjoy.


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