The clarion call for most analysis-driven research these days is Big Data. You know: that overwhelming sum of all the demographic, psychographic, socioeconomic, and whatever-else-ic-you-can-think-of information that has never been available before, but with supercomputing has now become a quantifiable and exploitable statistical playground. Yes, Big Data has been the holy grail of analytical review, but there is a catch. It isn’t actually available.
The world just past your fingertips
Gaining access to these data sets is where the problem of utilizing it comes in. Even though the data, in many cases, promises paradigm-shifting results, it’s only available to a select few. That is to say, small businesses are less likely to gain access to it than mega corporations. Especially since much of that data has been mined in the first place by those mega corporations (cough, Facebook, cough).
This puts the answers to this dilemma squarely in the terms of property rights. Or, more specifically, how those laws around property rights have not caught up with the technology yet. We’ve touched on this in relation to the Right to Repair bill, but that’s another post. This post is about the data that’s been on everyone’s to-do list to tap into.
In a similar way to how Uber was able to side-skirt the regulations taxis have been under because their business model didn’t fit the technical parameters of public transportation as we’ve known it. Another example would be AirBNB and their “we’re not a hotel chain” approach to being, well, a hotel chain. Laws are still catching up to help maintain a sense of order over these new technologies across a number of start-ups looking to disrupt stale industries, so too should property rights catch up to Big Data.
If the data that could be used to, say, cure cancer for all time was locked away in some silicon vault at 1 Hacker Way, then the whole of humanity is missing out on unbelievable potential. But Facebook, Google, even Amazon aren’t chomping at the bit to release the data they’ve been harvesting since we first logged into their services. So, what’s the solution?
You scratch my back, I’ll give your data back
The irony is, this data has always been there. It’s just that now we have a way of manipulating it toward our desired ends—to coin a popular phrase: we have the technology. But there needs to be an incentive for these private enterprises to share the data in any way. Without a tangible reason to do so, the quest for valuable Big Data—velocity, veracity, or otherwise—will end in a stalemate.
This is why the argument moves to the territory of property rights. Since this data is technically ill-gotten (did you really want that tech company spying on you?), the data should be up for grabs. Especially when it comes to using that data for humanitarian reasons. We need a kind of “commons” way of accessing the data that could be used for those ends.
That way, those businesses who’ve gathered the data don’t lose control; they only lease it to responsible partners in worthy or beneficial causes. This kind of data cooperative could finally put an engine in the chassis of Big Data.
One thing is for certain, however: when Big Data finally does become available, there will likely be a tsunami of new companies that pop up to handle the swell of users. And become available it must, if for no other reason than because it can be used for the common good of humankind. Then, you can bet every new start-up will have some hand in manipulating this data for our general consumption, and—if we live to see it—for the resolution to so many more of our self-made problems.