I predict a big data riot

Who owns the data we personally generate every day, the digital traces we leave behind each second?  This “big data” thing is growing so rapidly and companies know so much about us as individuals, that they are probably predicting exactly what we will do in the next hour.

Is this a good thing?  If it is to improve the quality of our lives then no one could object but, as Nate Silver says, big data can mean big errors.  This is frightening if Government wrongly predicts a health scare and annoying if advertisers try and sell you something you already have.

Where there are questions over ownership, there are also questions over privacy.  As a nation, we are becoming more astute about data protection and cookies.  The battleground for data will be held between the vendor and the consumer.  People will wise up very quickly to flip the relationship around.  “If you want my personal data, it will cost you”.  Or, “I will give you this bit of my data, but not all of it”.  The word ‘engagement’ rears its head here.  If consumers have a relationship with brands and trust them, then there will probably be a healthy two-way ‘big data’ relationship.

Vast volumes of data may be arriving in real time on people’s media consumption, particularly on mobile devices, but how can we separate the signal from the noise?  Data need context before becoming information.  Market research surveys have a structure in place to provide information, which hopefully leads to insight.  The future of audience measurement would be to marry the two worlds of survey and server data and this is starting to happen now.

I must admit that thinking about ‘big data’ moves me between fascination, trepidation and boredom.  That said, if I had received ads for coffee, DAB digital radio and toilet roll in the last hour, then I would have been impressed.

John Carroll is Senior Director in Ipsos MediaCT and Chairman of the Media Research Group (follow John on Twitter @MediaCarroll)