Big data: A cursed blessing?

As a tech writer, I study what is going on in the tech world daily. Many buzzwords and catchphrases are thrown around everywhere you read. Most of these trendy mentions are only to get you to click on the page. But as a sincere writer who cares about what my readers gain from my articles, I wanted to share with you about one of those big tech buzzwords that get tossed around a lot: Big Data.

I was reading through a few articles today that expressed concerns about privacy – how search engines seem to know more about us than our own family or even spouses. It’s to the point that police have been heard saying that Facebook is their favorite place to find out about suspects.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a “self-described” internet data expert (and you know what you get when “self-described” is used) is taking it upon himself to decode Google Trends to find out what our societies are really about. While completing his Ph.D., Stephens-Davidowitz, he started realizing that what people search for is far more telling than what they reveal in surveys.

He essentially believes, based on his Google Trends research, that everyone lies – a lot. “Certain online sources get people to admit things they would not admit anywhere else,” Stephens-Davidowitz stated in the interview of his a read. I much agree with him. I can see it in my own search results. And I am sure most readers would admit – to themselves at least – that they notice the same thing. But, to be fair, since I work online as a writer, I search tons of content daily, so this guy might be really confused to study my habits.

How Much Google Really Knows About Us

What a lot of people fail to understand is that when you use Google in all its glory, you’re kind of signing a pact with the devil. See, Google offers the best free online services of any search engine provider. They tell you – and they even ask politely – to give up your privacy so that your customer service experience is the best on the internet. Therefore, people can’t really slam them for being Big Data hogs.

Most stuff Google finds out about you is what you tell them willingly, such as information that is required to open an account. Nevertheless, that information, for now, has never been subject to scrutiny. This means that you can enter any age, phone number, or any other information you want. It doesn’t necessarily have to be true.

But the data that begins to build the truth behind your identity is the data Google collects of your mouse clicks – which websites you visit. In my research for writing this article, I came across some cool online applications that can give you some sort of idea of what Google knows about you.

You can go to the “Web & App Activity” page in order to see everything Google is keeping an eye on. By going to “Ad Settings” you can get a picture of what Google thinks about you. On that same page, you can also change the settings to keep advertisers from doing any old thing they want.

But All This Big Data Has Bigger Good

When I started typing this article, I didn’t want to jump on the Google bashing bandwagon. I believe this wonderful technology they have created and keep building upon it for the better of mankind. It is helping us become smarter people. I mean, there was a time you had to spend years in college learning things that you now can learn in far less time (depending on your willingness) reading the billions of information sources on Google.

Thanks to Google’s efforts and the efforts of many others, machine learning has taken how search engines gather and use big data to amazing levels (you can go here to find out more about machine learning and search engines). Take Google’s machine-translation service. Jun Rekimoto, a distinguished professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Tokyo, was one person who found Google’s machine-translation technology more than amazing.

The machine-translation technology Google has developed can translate complex literary works from one language to another nearly flawlessly. It would take a professor much like Rekimoto to even pick out the mistakes sometimes. And all this has been made possible through Google’s Big Data mining and analysing. For me, that is a really good use of all that Big Data. It is taking important written works of art and information and sharing with other peoples of various languages.

Big Data and All It Brings Is Here to Stay

This article was not as detailed as I would liked to have done, but with limited space and time, I only wanted to share my basic feelings and insight on the issue. Are there people – yes, people within governments, corporations, and other organizations who are able to gather data about us and use it in ways we don’t like? You bet your bottom dollar. But as human civilization grows in number, we simply need to understand that privacy is going to be less than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Looking at all the great things we can gain from being connected as we are outweighs the bad. Plus, if you and I don’t have any hidden sins to worry about, then why should we care? Maybe Google knowing us better than we know ourselves makes the world a safer place in ways. Know how many murders, rapist, and other criminals have been arrested because of their Google DNA?

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