Big data, big deal?

Big data, big deal?


Author: Richard Blatchly

The first week of each New Year sees the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) roll into Las Vegas, providing an annual glimpse into the future of consumer technology.

Dubbed the proving ground for breakthrough technologies where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace, this year's event saw predictions for an increasingly 'connected' and 'smart' future.

As the 'Internet of Things' gathers momentum, the role of technology is undergoing a gradual shift from the foreground to a more omnipresent and assistive background function. The vast majority of everyday objects are now capable of connecting to both the internet and each other, and the concepts of 'predictive analytics' and 'the quantified self' are gaining popularity as businesses seek to offer consumers an increasingly streamlined and efficient experience.

The unavoidable by-product of this technological advancement is 'big data'; the extremely large, raw digital data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns in user behaviour. Big data is fast becoming the hottest commodity in a contemporary gold rush, with anticipated global growth at a rate of 40% per year and businesses seeking new and innovative ways to commercialise it in their quest for competitive advantage.

From a legal perspective, when seeking to extract value from big data, the fundamental implications of ownership, data protection and privacy need to be considered.

It is estimated that 2.2 million terabytes of new data is created every day. To put this into perspective, that is roughly 128 million times more than the capacity of the average smart phone in your pocket! With 90% of the world's data being created in the last two years, ownership is a rapidly emerging concept. While the existing concept of database right grants an absolute right of ownership to the person 'obtaining, verifying and presenting' the content of a database, dealing with unstructured big data is a green field for lawyers.

In a big data driven world, data subjects are increasingly unaware of who their information is being shared with, and for what purpose(s). With such a large amount of data available and the potential to amalgamate data from various big data sources and ultimately profile an individual, it is clear that there are significant legal challenges ahead.

For businesses hoping to overcome these legal and regulatory difficulties, an outright rejection to making data more widely available risks ignoring its inherent value. To maximise the true value of big data, the focus needs to be on the nature and quality of any data captured. If this data is personal, is the retention of it necessary at all? If so, can it be suitably anonymised?

With 49% of consumers now saying that they are less willing to share their personal data, effective data collection and data processing policies have never been more important. Businesses must seek to build customer confidence and trust through integrated approaches to big data; ensuring that they have the right people and infrastructure in place to optimise it as a genuine 'value driver'.

One thing is for sure, big data is here to stay and an effective strategy is becoming an increasingly important way of securing competitive advantage in the marketplace. The unprecedented proliferation of big data presents an interesting and unique challenge to the legal profession and an opportunity for lawyers to showcase innovative thinking; enabling their clients to extract value from this virtual commodity, whilst remaining fully compliant and within the law.


This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.