Data as a Resource: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
At the begining of 2020, total data in the world was estimated to be around 43 trillion gigabytes (43 zettabytes), and is expected to increase to 175 zettabytes by 2025.
One zettabyte is equivalent to a trillion gigabytes. When represented in terms of a byte, it has 21 zeroes. This information alone is enough to comprehend the amount of data we’ve created over time. According to The Economist, data has now become the most valuable resource in the world, beating oil and fossil fuels in the process.
Data as a Natural Resource
Because of its increasing use and wide availability, “The New Natural Resource” is a term coined for data. The use of data includes information storing, decision making, and pattern analysis to name a few. Information about the past helps determine the trend of the future. Getting to the bottom of a huge chunk of data unveils the previously unseen pattern, insights, and also helps carve out meaningful information that can ultimately prove to be significant.
Extraction of data requires energy, and it is estimated that about 10% of all the energy consumption comes from data handling, one way or another. Cleansing and proper data management is the key to bring down such huge energy consumption.
We have an economic balance that mostly relies on data, and this isn’t going to decline anytime soon. The digital economy is fueled by data. As a matter of fact, this reliance on data is only going to increase with time as companies fund in data, collect every available customer information to produce greater results. On the other hand, consumers rely on social media for entertainment, cloud storage, online shopping, etc., thus contributing to the already huge database.
Data as a Resource to Tech Giants
A report from McKinsey & Co. stated that by 2009, companies with more than 1,000 employees already had more than 200 terabytes of data of their customer’s lives stored.
The use of data for personalized user experience is definitely one of the best aspects of it. Besides that, general awareness, valued marketing, and consumer-driven development have seen a positive impact on the overall technology industry without the violation of privacy and laws.
Looking at the bad part, the targeted advertisement is a very controversial topic. As it has the risk of affecting users’ privacy, it is regarded as unethical by many.
Allegedly, Facebook’s ad practice allowed advertisers to discriminate against people based on their ethnicity, sex, religion, and other personal interests.
The biggest downside of a company with a gold mine of data is its inability to handle them. We’ve all heard of privacy issues, data breach, and many other forms of data leaks. In 2019, Facebook unceremoniously confirmed that millions of unencrypted Instagram passwords were stored as plaintext somewhere on the internet. In September of the same year, 400 million Facebook users’ phone numbers got leaked.
United States Presidential Election 2016
It is believed that Trump consultants exploited Facebook data of millions of people to manipulate swing voters in voting Donald Trump during the elections in 2016. Once the desired features and set of people were extracted using data analytics, customized messages were sent to more than a hundred thousand targeted voters every day. “The Great Hack”, a Netflix documentary based mostly on data describes how Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm used data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis to get the desired result that would ultimately make Donald Trump President of the United States.
We are at that point in time where machines generate huge information from a small input provided by us. All the information we feed to the machines has now contributed to the creation of a trillion-dollar industry that relies on our data to make money. The fact that we are getting manipulated in one way or the other by someone who has understood us through our digital history is terrifying. Data science has barely scratched the surface. It isn’t perfect in context to how the data is being handled and how people are being maneuvered, but it’s definitely something that is going to play a significant role in the industry for years to come.