The hype surrounding big data is such that many companies blindly believe that they could never go wrong with it. While it is true that big data can help you make better decisions about your business, customers and products, there are instances when it is used for the wrong reasons.
Take Walmart for example. In November 2013, the Center for Media Justice sounded the alarm about Walmart’s dubious data collection practices, alleging that the retail giant is gathering data about individuals and sharing this information with more than 50 third parties. These individuals have no way of knowing what was shared about them, nor could they stop having their information shared or take out inaccurate data about them. According to the report, Walmart has information on at least 145 million people, which is more than 60% of all adults in the country. The information includes 80% of all e-mail addresses in the country. The information comes from the Walmart Web site and even mobile apps.
In Walmart’s case, big data has also been used to discriminate against customers. It resulted in higher prices in stores where Walmart has less competition, which sadly includes rural areas and poorer communities.
Personalization or Discrimination?
Big data enables the deep personalization of Web sites. This is the mechanism behind product recommendations that you see when you visit a retailer’s page. These recommendations come from your own purchase history as well as the products bought by people like you. However, if prices change because you belong to a certain income bracket or economic status, or because you live in a certain community or city, then that is discrimination.
This is especially true in Walmart’s case, where products become more expensive just because it would be inconvenient for you to shop somewhere else. This is similar to the Wall Street Journal’swhere it was found that higher income customers paid less than lower income families. Geography also played a factor where locations with no competitors were offered higher prices than others.
Other Problems with Big Data
As it is, the misuse of big data is already running afoul, with convoluted privacy issues, as well as threatening self-determination and the rise of potential discrimination and exclusion.
But that is not all! What about willful misinterpretation of big data? In an interview with ZDNet, Fractal Analysis CEO Srikanth Velamakanni has warned about people presenting wrong analysis to back up their actions, especially in highly competitive companies. So let’s say your team is working on a project that is quite underfunded. You can use big data then interpret it in such a way that would undermine a competing project so that you could shut the other project down and get its funding.
Even without that malice, you also run the risks of working with the wrong set of data. It is no surprise that bad data can lead to bad decisions.
What to Do? Four Cornerstone can help!
Like all other tools, big data is not necessarily good or evil. It all depends on how you use it. Just like how you can use your knife to cut that chewy meat to more manageable bite sizes, or use it as a weapon to hurt somebody else.
Four Cornerstone can help you get a handle on big data. Using Oracle’s products and software, you can be assured to be able to find great value with big data. We can also make sure that you harness the right type of data, process it into something that you could use and get timely, accurate reports as you need it.
Photo courtesy of Marius B.