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BLOG: Big Data is not Big Brother

Zafar Anjum | Oct. 3, 2012
Big Data can be humanitarian or Orwellian in its application.

Steven Leonard

Steve Leonard, Office of the chairman, EMC

Big Data is not Big Brother, or so EMC wants us to believe.

At an event in Singapore on Tuesday (2 October), Steve Leonard, Office of the chairman, EMC, said that Big Data can be used to benefit society and businesses and it can also be used to monitor citizens. This is true. Technologies are neutral in nature; it is how we deploy them and to what purpose that makes all the difference.

Big Data is one of the fastest emerging buzzwords in the world of Information Technology and it seems it will soon replace cloud computing from its throne. At one point of time, cloud computing sounded so mysterious and out of reach. Not anymore. Companies in Asia have been adopting the cloud technology in the last few years.

In the coming days and months, we are going to hear more and more about Big Data, given the fact that we humans created more data in the last two years than we ever did in our history. It seems to be a natural progression of how technology has moved up and sunk in its teeth in our lives-governments, corporations and even individuals. This is only going to go deeper. For instance, a child born today will create 70 times more data than what is stored in the US Library of Congress.

But let's first demystify Big Data. Big Data is what you have when you have data on the cloud, when you use smart technologies in urban life (smart cards on trains and buses, smart meters in households, use mobile payments, etc.), when mobile devices are in every pocket, and when every little thing you do, you share it on Twitter and Facebook. All the data that is thus generated creates a vast opportunity for interested parties to slice and dice and make use of to provide citizens and customers better service, or drive businesses or reap more profits in the context of corporates-or worse, monitor people and scrutinise their lives. So, Big Data can be humanitarian or Orwellian in its application.

One billion tweets

In an interesting experiment, EMC got a rare opportunity to access all the tweets from Twitter for 10 days-this amounted to nearly one billion tweets. They sliced and diced the tweets and came out with some fascinating data points.

For example, they found that while President Obama garnered 60 percent of the tweets (mentions, not sentiments), Governor Mitt Romney got only 40 percent of the tweet share when their respective party conventions were ongoing this year. Does it reflect their potential vote share as well? Who knows? We will only know after the US Presidential elections are over.


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