How to Better Understand Data

1. Take on multiple perspectives

Some hail Big Data as the greatest stepping stone for humanity since the wheel. Others see in it the inevitable demise of society as we know it. But which is it? Try to hear as many perspectives as possible to form your own well-rounded opinion on the matter. The new magazine on «the value of data» by Stiftung Mercator [DE] explores the topic through conversations with various experts taking on different perspectives.

2. Understand the extent of data volumes

The extent of the global volume of data is mind boggling: Every minute, 156 million emails are sent. More than 3.7 billion humans use the internet. In total, we create an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (that’s 30 zeros!). The big data industry is now worth $189 Billion, an increase of $20 Billion over 2018, and is set to continue its rapid growth and reach $247 Billion by 2022.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of analytics

A few Likes on Facebook are sufficient to estimate users’ private characteristics, such as political or sexual orientation, with high precision. With only 150 Facebook Likes it is possible to evaluate your personality better than your own family can. With 300 Likes the estimations are already better than those of one’s partner.*

4. Know that privacy statements aren’t written to be read

It is estimated that every consumer would need 76 days a year to read the privacy statement of each of the products and services they use. They are intentionally long and convoluted.*

5. Be aware that the big data collectors are misusing their power

Since June 2017 the EU has sentenced Google to several fines totalling almost 8.3 billion euros for manipulating its search results or abusing its market power. Facebook was also sentenced to a fine of 5 billion US dollars in the USA in July 2019 for its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The group had unwarrantedly passed on user data to the firm as well as other third parties.*

* From the handbook for digital self defense by Digitale Gesellschaft.

Helpful links

[EN + DE / FR subtitles] Watch the Netflix documentary «The Great Hack» in order to understand how big data collectors are misusing our data and their market power. Be aware that this documentary represents only one perspective of the story, hence have a look at the movie's critics as well.

[EN, DE, FR] The book «The Age of Surveillance Capitalism» by Professor Shoshana Zuboff provides a detailed examination of the emerging economic system called "surveillance capitalism," which underlies the extremely lucrative data business as well as the quest by powerful corporations to surveil, predict and control our behavior. Alternatively, you can watch a documentary about her and her insights on Youtube.

[DE] Das Lehrmittel «Big Data» vom Museum für Kommunikation wählt einen innovativen und spielerischen Weg, um Daten für Jugendliche «be-greifbar» zu machen.

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