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Infographic: What exactly is big data?

If you’re someone that keeps abreast of industry trends, you’ve probably heard your share of buzzwords. Right now, few popular phrases can hold a candle to so-called “Big Data”, which has been flooding the Internet with search results and insightful (and less so) discussion. It’s a subject that half the Web seems happy to chime in on, but very few bother to explain. So let’s do that, with this infographic and accompanying article.

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Breaking down Big Data

So, what exactly is “Big Data”? Call me Captain Obvious, but Big Data is data that’s big. So big, in fact, that it’s totally incomprehensible and impractical for humans to analyse. It’s data of such magnitude that technology is needed to parse it and sort it, such that we can pick out patterns and trends to make informed decisions from.

What was that last sentence about, you ask? Perhaps it’s easier to exemplify what Big Data is made up of. It can take a great many forms, including things like consumers’ Internet browsing habits, purchases, sensory information from traffic or weather systems, social media activity, and so much more.

Essentially, if you collect enough information about the way something occurs – whether it’s traffic patterns in a busy city, transactions in a supermarket, or your nan’s Facebook feed – you can pick out patterns, and use these patterns to adjust the way things happen (ideally for the better). Tweak traffic lights to improve flow, rearrange store shelves to match purchasing habits, and send your nan targeted adverts for knitting patterns. You get the idea.

With the general public creating more data than ever before thanks to the proliferation of social media, and the “Internet of Things” (which we’ve previously written about) filling our world with smart sensors attached to just about anything, there’s a ridiculous amount of data – two billion gigabytes every day, in fact – moving through our global network. But who’s collecting it, and what are they doing with it? These questions have a fair few people concerned.

Both sides of the Big Data coin

The prospect of an “information society” where an unprecedented amount of data about the way we live our lives can be analysed to build a better world is certainly appealing, and it’s already happening. Medical and scientific institutions have access to sample sizes like never before, and law enforcement stands to benefit massively from collating ever-more information about the population.

But there are darker sides to data collection; not everyone has such benevolent intent. Like pretty much everything in life, people will use it to turn a profit however they can, and it’s large corporations that hold the most power in this regard. Fears are frequently raised over consumers’ invasion of privacy; of sensitive information being harvested without their permission and used to bombard them with “targeted” marketing efforts. You may have noticed this yourself: if you search for new shoes online, don’t be surprised if you start noticing advertisements for shoes popping up in your Facebook feed. Data collection is near-omnipresent across the Web; while it may be too soon to don your tinfoil hat and proclaim that everything you do is being watched, it’s certainly true that subtle algorithms are observing your actions behind the scenes.

There’s also the matter of governments and security agencies, which have attained a particularly high profile in the news recently. Conspiracy theorists are quick to suggest an Orwellian dystopia where the FBI, NSA or what-have-you are watching your every move. Though the old adage “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” holds true, there’s still good reason to remain vigilant. The UK is the most monitored nation in the world, with around 5 million CCTV cameras keeping an electronic eye on us. That’s to say nothing of newsworthy phone hacking scandals, internet providers checking up on what content their customers view, and many other notable uses and misuses of data.

That’s where you come in

What can you do if you’re worried about your personal data being snapped up without your consent? My advice is to be conscious of your “data footprint”. Too many people are quick to bare all (in some cases literally) online and on social media, with a total disregard for their own privacy. Be mindful of what you share and where you share it, and try to keep your footprint to a minimum where you can.

As far as data being gathered while you browse goes, anonymity and security are valid options. I’d recommend talking to Silver Lining about securing your IT infrastructure. We can offer you private multi-site connectivity and secure data centre hosting to ensure your data remains yours. On the flipside, if your business is part of the Big Data revolution and processes huge amounts of incoming data, we have dedicated high-speed connectivity, mobile data tariffs and resilient cloud infrastructure to suit your needs.

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