In planning the Big Data track for the Broadband World Forum, I have a very interesting book on my desk by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kennerth Cukier entitled ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.”
This claim is no understatement; as the book reveals, through embedding sensors all over the world in any number of devices (including smartphones), Big Data might well unlock answers to some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as global warming, climate change, improving and lowering the cost of healthcare for the world’s poor, and automating tasks which currently rely on human judgement, such as examining biopsies for cancerous cells, or detecting infections before symptoms fully emerge. It will help to make processes faster and speed up societal progress in ways we have currently not even begun to imagine.
Knowing this, Big Data seems a very positive and worthwhile exercise to become engaged in. If telco networks can become organised in such a way that Big Data can be extracted and used for the greater good, potentially the whole world could benefit, and telcos will become the ultimate heroes. (Clearly, any company which places itself in a position of having unlimited access to this data is also sure to profit financially too.)
This idea has certainly got the industry excited, and it is no coincidence that the Big Data stream on Day One of the Broadband World Forum was one of the first streams to reach capacity in terms of speakers. With a huge number of different countries represented in the Big Data speaker line-up, it is not only telcos from developed nations who want to get involved, but everyone, right across the globe.
But in the excitement about what Big Data might achieve for the greater good of society, there is still a big stumbling block: the challenge to Privacy. Regulating what should and shouldn’t be sold on, and for what purpose, is very important, and gaining the public’s trust in this area to use their data freely will not be easy.
For example, in June 2014, it was announced that Facebook plans to track its users’ use of the web outside of Facebook, and sell that data on to other companies for advertising purposes. They are by no means the only company that does this, and hopefully in this case, the worst that will happen is that we will end up with more targeted advertising in our Facebook sidebars. Yet the feeling of invasion in knowing that we are being tracked is considerable – and the public backlash is mounting. In reaction, by contrast, Microsoft have now updated their Terms of Service, pledging never to sell on their own users’ private data. Clearly, it is a sticky issue.
So if telcos do choose to embark on selling their users’ data, how greatly will this affect their relationship with the public and, in particular, their own subscribers? What kind of information should be passed on? And where does the border between good and bad actually lie? As the months go by, the topic gets ever bigger and more complex…
We will be discussing all these issues in our Big Data track at the Broadband World Forum this October. Join us, and add your voice to this important debate.
– Georgina Wilczek, Conference Manager, Broadband World Forum 2014