Urgent need for data deletion in big data era

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18 years ago, I wrote fervently about the imperative of more data deletion in the Journal of International Business Studies: “The growing risk of information overload is likely to lead to the emergence of a new industry concentrated on the reduction of knowledge… Due to rising concerns in the information dissemination area, the role of privacy experts and mechanisms designed to withhold information will also be on the increase”

After six years of testing, Google finally announced the option of “undo send” in its Gmail service. However, rumors of deletion capability are vastly exaggerated.  Instead of actually “deleting” the email after sending it, the new “undo send” function just provides a time delay ranging from 5 to 30 seconds before sending out the email. Once the send button has been clicked, nothing can be “undone” after that time delay . Even now, if you accidentally send sensitive bank information to a total stranger, you still have to get a court order before Google can unsend an email full of sensitive data that  mistakenly arrived in the inbox of a wrong person.

We don’t have the slightest doubt that big data technology has played an irreplaceable role in letting economies boom. Google, for example, has collected data from Gmap in mobile phones to report accurate instant traffic information. IBM’s Watson Supercomputer collects all medical journals and clinical cases and makes them available to doctors.

 

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After Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, many people prefer a delay to a delete function in order to maintain accurate records. But for privacy’s sake, deletion may be essential. It  can take  a long time for laws to catch up with modern crimes.

Too many data can also disable people’s decision making capacity. Dr. Ron Friedman, a social psychologist on the science of workplace excellence conducted  research on how more information influences people’s decision making. We used to think that more information leads to smarter decisions. However, when data are missing, we tend to overestimate their value.

Increasingly, we can build our understanding based on data derived from applications. We will be able to compare the use of air-conditioning in Shanghai to that in Berlin. A Smart Factory can offer solutions and services to consumers in different  and changing conditions. Key obstacles are the reality of  messy information and the problem of getting rid of useless data.

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The Future is Small Data CLICK TO READ

Just yesterday, Facebook acquired a small Israeli startup called “Onavo” for a cool $150 million. Onavo specializes not in big data analysis – which seems to be today’s hot commodity – but rather data compression and optimization (“small data”). Onavo is of significant value-add to Facebook because its optimization algorithms effectively make the product lighter on data consumption – a major boon to consumers in developing countries that pay a relatively large amount for cellular data – and effective analysis methodologies. In order for Facebook to keep growing, they need to keep growing their network while simultaneously making big data “smaller.”

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are some of the most useful, updated, and heavily utilized consumer preference databases available – and marketers are constantly looking for ways to monetize on the action. For instance, Facebook has recently been wooing network broadcasters with consumer data reports to help broadcasters understand consumer opinion on their content.

For companies trying to understand foreign consumer preferences, especially in countries in which official data may be fudged or incomplete, it can be quite difficult to ascertain consumer preferences from a hands-off approach. Traditional information agencies such as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) may not have the same reach that social networks do. Social networks, unfiltered by bureaucratic corruption, can bridge the knowledge gap for foreign companies without the risk of government book-cooking. That’s why Facebook needs to grow its presence in developing markets, to make it easier for people to online: to bolster its ad revenues and to deepen its potential as a treasure trove of consumer information.

Acquiring small data pioneer Onavo will certainly make it easier for citizens of developing countries to get online. The more people that are online, the more valuable Facebook becomes. I believe that Facebook, Twitter, et al certainly have the potential to surpass information-collection resources like the EIU, McGraw-Hill, and others at the consumer level – provided that they focus not only on getting more people online, but also making big data smaller. The Onavo acquisition is a step in the right direction.

This text was written and presented by Mr. Ryan Cunningham, Student at the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University in the course on International Business (STRT-261-01) on October 17th, 2013.

In addition to the written work, the author also offered a very interesting presentation on the issue: Business Intelligence, Facebook, and Small Data.  You can contact Ryan here.