There is currently an information war being played out at light speed through the cables and wireless systems that inhabit our world. It is a fight for data, or rather, a fight for data ownership and its associated uses.
Every year individuals and organisations are waking up to the potential uses of data to inform and direct research projects. Raw data is extremely powerful. We need look no further than Google and its vast range of free services to understand this. However, data usage is about much more than selling on consumer preferences for market research.
At Roskilde, a huge music festival in Denmark, Copenhagen Business School teamed up with IBM to collect real-time data on willing festival-goers. Tracking their movements using geo-location software the organisers could anticipate overcrowding and upcoming shortages at food and drink stands. Quoted by the BBC, Per Ostergaard Jacobsen, the project’s lead academic explained "We could see which areas of the festival would need more beer and when, which were getting overcrowded, and which would become muddy and dangerous when it rained.”
This kind of real-time data analysis is becoming big business. It is allowing companies such as Aeria Games in Germany to analyze and adapt to the behaviour of its 70 million users. This information enables Aeria to gain strategic insights in a competitive market allowing them to rapidly update their games to meet consumer trends. However, such data is not only used for commercial advantage, it is also central to matters of personal and national security. Analysis of real-time data forms a vital part of security monitoring, not only to protect against cyber attacks, but also to monitor the movements of persons of interest. But just who has a right to this data and what control do we have over its uses and benefits?
A new social enterprise hopes to redirect some of the power of raw data back into our own hands. Called the Hub of all Things, or HAT for short, the project aims to grab back personal data into a single file on our behaviour. This file would group all data across a person’s digital life, mapping and assimilating the information held by multiple sources to make one personal databank. The enterprise hopes users would then be empowered to sell on this data, or use it to enable a more bespoke relationship with the services they require.
Underlying all the vested interests, ideals and potential is a question of privacy. Who can we trust with our data and do we really understand what we are (sometimes unknowingly) giving away? As with all things, it is the most vulnerable who are likely to be worst affected, as victims of fraud, or pushy sales practices. Of course, data analysis is itself a blank canvas, which can also facilitate positive or benign outcomes. The trouble is, in the face of raw data’s potential it is practically impossible to find an organisation whose stance on data ownership is not coloured by their own agenda.
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