The New Gold Rush: Data

Big data. It’s all anyone talks about, nowadays. Just look at the majority of Professor Wyner’s t-shirts – one of them even says “I like Big Data and I Cannot Lie.”  (s/o to Prof Wyner for his cool t-shirts.) The importance of analyzing data comes from the fact that there is just so much of it being generated on a daily basis. From the influence of smartphones and online usage, vast amounts of data have been able to be generated. Even more important to note is how recent the explosion of data is: roughly 90% of the worlds total amount of data has been generated in the past two years, and the world collectively outputs 2.5 quintillion bytes of data PER DAY. It is estimated that the world will generate over 40 zetabytes of data by 2020. Thats a lot of data! The unprecedented massive influx of data coupled with an increased importance on the ability to interpret, analyze, and know just what the data can be used for has created a Big Bang of sorts surrounding data analytics. Companies have been on the hunt to capture data, bringing to light a lot of questions about what data people are comfortable sharing and whether or not privacy exists in todays digital world.



The chart above shows a little snippet of just how frequently huge amounts of data are created. For example, over 3.5 million searches are conducted on Google every minute. Every search generates new data that can be used to better understand the specific consumer doing the googling. With such an abundance of data that is constantly generated, successful collection, analysis, and utilization of such large amounts of data can really make or break a company. Two companies that stand out in the rush for data are Google and Facebook. With such a dominant presence in the online lives of individuals, Facebook and Google both have a huge amount of access to data that they frequently use for the monetization of their platforms. The amount of data that Facebook and Google consistently generate is coming from the huge user base – billions of users – that contribute to their sites. A huge part of the competitive advantage of Facebook and Google is how much data they have on their users, and their ability to use that data to monetize their platform through targeted advertising.

Because of the value of data, there has been some backlash about exactly how and when Google or Facebook collects data. Recently, there has been talk about Google’s phone “OnePlus” where users noticed excessive and invasive data collection: User outcry prompts OnePlus to step down its excessive data collection (

Essentially, Google was getting location data every time the phone was woken up and put to sleep – collecting data from the phone consistently in unprecedented ways that, once users found it was happening, made many people uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that Google ceased the invasive data collection. What I find especially interesting about this case is that it took a random experiment performed by a OnePlus user to find that so much data was being sent to Google without the user knowing.

The lack of knowledge of exactly what data, and how much of it, we are giving these huge companies borders on the “creepy-cool” line that we touch on so frequently. Because of the known importance of data, it wouldn’t surprise me if even more scenarios of invasive data collection are taking place unbeknownst to us.

With this question in mind, I researched the topic of where our data is going and who has it. I cam across another TechCrunch article “You might be surprised to learn who’s collecting your data.” In the article, it states that according to Pew research,  more than 90 percent of adults agree that consumers have lost control of how their data is collected and shared online by companies. People have accepted the fact that privacy is either impossible or not feasible to achieve. The level of comfort that people have with huge companies having access, and further sharing, their own data has grown. There seems to be a divide in how people react to their data being shared. Even through our discussions in class, there seems to be a divide in which some of us believe that sharing our data is part of what it costs to maintain the growth of industries and continuing to improve our quality of life provided by the companies that use our data while others find it incredibly disconcerting to think that their own personal data is being shared by companies without their knowledge for the sake of monetization.

The reality of the world we live in is that data is incredibly important for so many companies that we use in our every day lives. However, I believe the most important question we have to ask is whether or not the tradeoff between privacy and convenience is a decision we are able to make.


  1. ojeagle121 · ·

    The big keep getting bigger too. B/c of network effects, Google and Facebook’s piece of the data pie keeps growing. You make a good point about people having a dissonance between privacy and enjoying products brought to us by our own information. I honestly think it will get worse before it gets better … some portion of our data will have to have a noticeable effect on our everyday lives before the population as a whole makes a big enough deal out of it to make changes.

  2. I think Owen hit the nail on the head. Until this collection interferes with our life in someway, people will give only a second to fight back. But look at google maps now. It can tell you the best route based on time and day of the week that you leave, or based on when you want to arrive at a specific location. Something like this would not have been possible without data collection. I believe everyone should have their choice as to what data they provide to companies, but I do not think its fair to use certain applications and then complain about data collection.

  3. camcurrie99 · ·

    I agree with the above comments. When it comes to the creepy-cool line, I tend to stick to the cool side as most data that is collected is anonymized and encrypted with identifiable information removed before storage. The sacrifice of some privacy for features in products will continue to be an assumption until something truly shocking is done with data collected from these services. I highly doubt we would have been able to achieve the level of innovation we have today without massive data collection, and with that in mind I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Thanks for sharing!

  4. maririera19 · ·

    I think that convenience definitely outweighs the privacy concerns data collection, but like all things it has unintended consequences. The Wired article, “Divored by Data” talks about how an increasing number of divorce cases “center around digital forensics, involving data gathered from wearable devices and smartphone applications.” It mentions several cases of infidelity being exposed through tracking on the Find My Friends app, racy texts to a mistress being received on the texter’s phone through the iCloud, and many more. The article makes a good point that “This unintended consequence of modern data gathering shifts the discussions over large societal questions about digital privacy to intimate ones of emotional privacy, leading to bizarre moments of Orwellian heartbreak.”

  5. Matt and Owen are right – I love using apps like Google Maps and Waze, and the only reason they work is because people are sharing data. If everyone were to not share theirs but want to take advantage of others’ data, we’d have a serious tragedy of the commons. Only by allowing our information to be shared can we benefit from it. Especially for things like Venmo, where I see in your infographic so much is happening but I definitely agreed to it without thinking about it. If there’s no switch to turn something off, I’m using it as is.

  6. Nice post. Most people don’t mind sharing data, if they get some value in return. Its when companies collect data without providing value in return that they object.

    Oh, and I love Prof. Wyner’s t-shirts too.

  7. Your blog addresses the honest fact that data is collected on all of us, and most of the time we have zero idea where it ends up. Prof Kane brings up an interesting point that people are willing to share if they gain value in return. Another aspect of all the data that has been collected, is that companies are unsure how to use it. It’s not clear which data is clearly reliable and can actually be used with a guaranteed positive return. Great post!

  8. fernanfu89 · ·

    Really interesting article! I do believe that data is the new future for companies and those who exploit this will be the ones that prevail. As a user, going to your point, I love that companies collect information such as for example google maps, which because of the data, we have better routes and better decisions in general. I do believe however, that nowadays, companies are collecting to much information. For example, I have a google home and it collects every verbal command I make, which I think is a little creapy. Also, how can we know if our information will be safe.

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