Companies such as 23andMe gather data from clients and proceed to disperse the information. How far is too far when it comes to big data?
Big data. Is it just another buzzword that we regularly hear in the marketing and tech world? There’s no argument that big data is a growing trend among the business world. Throughout the internet, the catchy two-word phrase gets thrown around daily, both correctly and incorrectly.
To keep things simple, big data is precisely what you might imagine: data sets that are very, very large. According to IBM.com, big data is “being generated by everything around us at all times. Big data is arriving from multiple sources at an alarming velocity, volume and variety”. In other words, everything you do on the internet produces big data, which builds up huge data sets.
All sizes of companies attempt to dissect big data into useful and meaningful information that they use in order to benefit their business. Have you ever been browsing the web and an ad that seems to be directed right at you pops up on the side of the page? Or do you wonder how Facebook could ever know that you actually enjoy eating at Sizzler? Yep, you can thank big data for that.
You can expect big data to stick around. Just like the Internet of Things, big data is already affecting our lives and will continue to grow and expand. For example, every time you’re using Twitter or Facebook, the cookies are gathering information about you based on your activity. You can imagine how big this data can become in only a matter of minutes. Unless our activity on the internet slows down (yeah right), big data will only increase.
Some people are bothered by how much of their data is being saved in databases. Discussions of “Big Brother” are sometimes brought up in fear of an invasion of privacy. When big data ends up in the wrong hands, the results can indeed be detrimental. Corruption is nothing new in the world of business, and big data – like everything else – is another tool that hackers can use.
However, we often fail to see the positive effects of big data. Big data has been used to analyze and improve cities, healthcare and the environment. For example, MIT used big data analysis to aid its research of cities and how they can reduce emissions. It is also thanks to big data that scientists are making progress on finding cures to diseases that at one time seemed entirely incurable.
One organization in particular that is using big data for health care is 23andMe, a genomics and biotechnology company founded by Anne Wojcicki, wife of Sergey Brin. 23andMe’s primary focus is to provide the public with a detailed DNA kit that breaks down your genes and tells you what diseases you may be vulnerable to. All they ask from you is a sample of your saliva, along with $99. The overall reaction to 23andMe has been positive, however many skeptics worry that 23andMe is selling this DNA data to other corporations for profit. Now, 23andMe never denies that they share the information they gather. In fact, all participating clients must agree that their data can be shared among the world of medicine. But to what extent?
Recently, 23andMe teamed up with one of its early investors, Genentech, in order to disperse data. The main goal behind this deal is to study Parkinson’s disease. Thanks to this spreading of data, Genentech can conduct more accurate studies into the causes of Parkinson’s by studying the DNA of those who already have the disorder. 23andMe is excited about this movement and hopes that its database can be used to study and eventually come up with cures for clouded diseases.
Wojcicki hopes that 23andMe can actually solve health issues by using big data. Lisa Miller of New York Magazine wrote that Wojcicki is determined to do with DNA what Google did for data, because after all, DNA is data. But when you consider how Google has used its data to get advertising, could customers of 23andMe find their data being handed over to insurance companies resulting in refusal for cover?
This worry has made some people think that what 23andMe is doing with big data is unethical; Wojcicki has been accused of only being in the business to make millions, while others believe she is truly committed to solving health care issues around the world. Is it possible that maybe there is a little of both?
We digress. With big data, we can see the real world examples going on around us. This is not something that needs to be feared. There are of course positives and negatives when discussing big data, but when used right, it’s helping us move forward. Expect to see advancements in both technology and healthcare thanks to these databases.
Can we get a three cheers for big data?