The Golden Rule of Big Data

Operate ethically with data collection, following the Golden Rule, otherwise create confusion, perhaps even chaos. The choice is yours.
Customer Experience

The Big Data knowledge gap is closing rather quickly. After all, the Big Data industry is projected to grow into a $53.4 billion market by 2017, and if any of us want even the smallest inkling of those dollars to flow our way, it is absolutely necessary to understand the changing digital landscape and its big data reliance.

Yet, those of us who understand how to use Big Data are still in the minority. In the first quarter of 2014, 51 percent of companies looking to hire professionals said that the lack of available talent was one of the biggest impediments to making better decisions with Big Data. Of course, for even the most experienced of us, Big Data has only been influencing our better decision making for the better part of a couple years-tops.

Since the beginning of 2014, though, Big Data education has skyrocketed thanks in part to 2013's NSA scandal and multiple newsworthy data breaches since then including those from Target, Home Depot, and more.

In other words, it's become increasingly difficult, if not nearly impossible, to avoid the influence of Big Data either at work or at play, no matter your profession or lifestyle. Soon, we will all be held responsible for our own data proficiency, and for individuals as well as corporations, this means abiding by a common rule of thumb. Let's call it the Golden Rule of Big Data.

Now, we've all heard the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We've all also experienced a reality in which that rule is very rarely followed, and Big Data is certainly no different. After all, Big Data is being created on you right now, as you browse the web, make purchases and the like. Cookies follow you wherever you go and without your consent, your online actions are often collected, and then sold to the highest bidder. This is called third-party data, and it's been happening for quite some time.

See, the open web is not typically free. Remember that economics lesson that bummed you out in high school? You know, the one about there never being a free lunch? Yeah, that applies to the Internet, too. Platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, Reddit and Pinterest, Google, and Amazon are not "free" services. You are paying for them with your data. Your data, in fact, is what makes these platforms so powerful, so influential and so profitable, whether or not their balance sheet says so (though for the ones just named, the balance sheet most certainly does produce high quantities of green).

That said, would you collect behavioral and affinity data on your audience without their knowledge? Perhaps you would, but for most, the idea of tracking, collecting, and using any type of personal information without consent of said person is generally considered immoral. And yet, so many websites and companies are doing exactly that.

To be fair, things are getting a little bit better as far as data collection transparency goes. After all, the White House published a 78-page report to the tune of it. Facebook now allows you to see why ads are being targeted to you and are pushing a new "anonymous login" (though they see no harm in manipulating your feed to collect data on how social sites affect your mood, without your consent). And iBeacon technology promises the collection of your offline behavioral data via your in-app consent rather than unwittingly through your WiFi connection.

Yes, there are companies out there trying to do right by their users, trying to enforce the Golden Rule. Those attempts, however, are often just smoke and mirrors-good press, if you will. True Big Data collection and use transparency follows these three standards:

1. Awareness and Education: the responsibility of a company to properly, without the withholding of any information, educate users on the collection and use strategies employed by said brand

2. Personal Agency: the responsibility of a company to allow users to exercise their personal agency through data-less options, if the user so decides

3. Internal Review: the responsibility of a company to ensure the proper protection of collected data, with internal review ensuring the proper usage as was indicated to the users at time of collection

The Internet is a democracy. Viral cat videos alone prove that. And while it might be theorized that within a democracy, the people can rise and resist giving in to overarching misuses of power, history serves to tell the tale of the misappropriation of utilities giving rise to mass ignorance. It's why even the most disliked leaders are re-elected after a catastrophe-immediate need for resources takes precedence over a poorly timed campaign.

The Internet is very much a modern day utility, which is why it is more important than ever to work toward the Golden Rule when it comes to Big Data. Because utilities are supposed to work for us, nourish us, prepare us for lives lived in the pursuit of happiness. And this time, Internet, both individuals and companies alike can work together to create a data marketplace built on trust, trade, and transparency.

Otherwise, ultimately, every one of us will lose our personal agency as it concerns anything digital. Operate ethically with data collection, following the Golden Rule, otherwise create confusion, perhaps even chaos. The choice is yours.