The world of Big Data

In today’s digital world, massive quantities of a wide variety of data are collected and automatically evaluated.
For many internet users, it’s simply impossible to keep an overview of the amounts of data and processing methods: There are so many and they are so inundated with information that they are altogether called “Big Data.”
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Where does the data come from?
The large amounts of data are taken from, for example, all user data tied to a specific app or online game, the location data of customers of a mobile phone provider, mobile fitness trackers, social networks, streaming services, public directories, loyalty points systems of supermarkets, shopping history, an online retailer or mobile sensor data and networked (household) appliances.

In short: Almost every action of every user in the digital space is associated with the collection of data. And as that happens around the clock, a huge amount of data comes together in no time.
What will be done with the data?
Depending on the aims, data is sometimes brought together from many sources and analyzed to get new information. The mass of data can, for example, be used to do extensive studies about people’s opinions, arrive at new research findings in medicine, or predict purchasing behavior. The results of Big Data analyses are interesting for companies that make things or provide a service, as well as banks, insurance companies, employers, scientists, and even investigative authorities. It can help all these groups do their work.
Problems with Big Data
Big Data can become a “money machine” – namely, when economic interests are what lie behind the collection of personal data. This data then gets bought by companies, like any other good. At this point, users no longer have control over who gets the data and what happens with it. Data protection should be in place to prevent such misuse. But there are still many challenges posed to it by Big Data:
Data protection laws ensure that data may only be used for the original purpose of its collection. But Big Data’s goal is to analyze as much data from as many sources as possible to learn new things. This contradicts the principle of purpose limitation.
Big Data makes it even harder for people to control how their data is stored and gets processed. That in turn makes it difficult to effectively protect one’s private information and exercise one’s own rights.
Sometimes Big Data analysis bunches together lots of private data that is not important on its own, but suddenly becomes very sensitive information altogether – because patterns can now be recognized, or information about a person’s health can be figured out from how they shop, for example.
Even if the data is made anonymous for analysis, the risk of Big Data is the potential for combination of data from various sources revealing a person’s identity in the end.
Internet users can hardly escape data collection. With knowledge and skills, however, they can learn to handle their data in a self-determined and confident way and control what information they disclose online. Children and young people in particular should be educated about this topic at an early stage.