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Big Data: Drawing the Line between Technology and Business

Mar 18, 2014

In 2013, an estimated 1,200 exabytes of data was floating about our digital universe. How much data is that? About one billion gigabytes.

A year earlier, IDC estimated that less than 1% of the world’s data was analyzed, and less than a fifth was protected. It also estimated that by 2020, 33% of big data might contain valuable information if analyzed, compared with 25% today.

As the demand for and production of data increases exponentially each year, who watches over all that information? Will technology companies be our trusted guardians of information?

For better or worse, yes.

A recent article in The New York Times takes a look at data security and a dilemma faced by startups – although one data breach can ruin a business, getting a product to market often requires tech entrepreneurs to skimp on security.

That’s troubling, because it points to a conflict of interest when it comes to tech companies and big data.

The information gathered by tech companies creates tremendous economic and social value, for sure, but no matter how much they talk about product security, tech companies have to extend their data in order to create new business value and opportunities. In other words, they’ll push the boundaries of what data they can gather and how they can use it.

VentureBeat talked with one investor who’s wary about involvement in companies that talk about data generation but “have no clear pathway toward being part of any bigger system later on.” And that’s the cold hard truth – just as startups want to be acquired by bigger companies, they also want their data to be acquired by bigger systems, or become the bigger system themselves.

After Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp last month, both companies insisted they were not out to mine data from WhatsApp users. But is that a promise they can or will keep?

Wickr, an alternative to WhatsApp and Snapchat, markets itself as a high-security product. “From the moment we started building Wickr,” co-founder Nico Sell told The New York Times, “we assumed we’d be attacked by the most advanced nation-states in the world. Nowadays, I think every company needs to make that assumption.”

But can a product like Wickr, which differentiates itself on security, ever have the mass appeal of WhatsApp or Snapchat? From a tech perspective, security is a primary concern, but from a business perspective, the primary concern is marketing – even if that means sacrificing tech values.

Are there boundaries between being a company and being a tech company? If tech companies are going to be our guardians of information, do they have more responsibility than companies in other industries? And will their control over big data require strict oversight along the lines of financial industry regulations?

When it comes to big data, there are so many questions but much fewer answers. What are your views on the social, technological and business repercussions of big data and more specifically, who’s “watching” over our data? Share your thoughts with the ThinkInk community below.

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