James Darling

STS Final Paper

Final Draft

Professor Fleming

May 18th, 2018

                                                               How Big Data is Beginning to Control our Lives

               What if there was a way to track a person’s internet searches, online purchases, facebook profiles, relationships etc. all by the collection of data? Well, that is completely possible, with the credit going towards big data. Big data is essentially the gathering of large sums of data points which then helps in analyzing just about everything a person searches or clicks on the internet. The way our society has used and is advancing in using big data has skyrocketed. Some common uses are in enhancing products, analyzing human tendencies and behavior, and looking for patterns and correlations in people’s data. While big data provides so much good for many companies, it also tests our privacy of something so simple as searching for something on Google. The first person to expose those people, more specifically the government and law enforcement, was Edward Snowden in 2013. Snowden, working for the NSA, realized the wrong in what they were doing which led him to releasing a high number of classified documents about the dark side of big data (Biography.com). That leads to the discussion of the 4th amendment and how, mainly, our countries law enforcement are finding loopholes in this constitutional amendment to further break into our citizens’ private matters, and big data does not exactly help that (Joh). While law enforcement may use data to further find out more on criminals, almost every big player in the online industry, whether it be social media or specific product purchasing, is using our private searches to find out more about us. A common person may think that if they are searching things online in the comfort of their own home that no one is watching, but it quite the contrary. While these companies most likely are not sitting on the other side of the screen tracking your every search, your data is still there and they can find it. It may be hard to believe that friendly names such as Google or Facebook are tracking us, much less using our data for their benefit, but they are, that is how they survive. In fact, most companies will tell you quite clearly if you scroll through there privacy policy, which many, including myself, tend not to do. In a portion of Facebook’s privacy policy they describe what they obtain from their users, “We collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others. This can include information in or about the content you provide, such as the location of a photo or the date a file was created.” (Facebook: Data Policy). The amount of data these companies are taking in is enormous and only increasing, and just because they make it seem friendly or inviting in their privacy policy, we do not know what goes on inside of these companies. The average american spends about 168 hours a week looking at their technological devices (Howard), because of this there is a plethora of data out in the world that is being used by companies, industries, and the government to further enhance our society, although their constant surveillance could be a risk of breaching our rights to privacy.

              Big data has begun to provide companies with a greater advantage through their ability to track user data, making it much easier for the producer and consumer to manage all sectors. According to Forbes.com, receiving their information from Dresner Advisory Services, about 53 percent of companies have begun to use big data to enhance their services and operations (Columbus). The greatest users are the financial and telecommunication companies, but a large amount of corporations agree in the fact that data warehousing is crucial in their use of big data. (Columbus). This is where they are able to store loads of data from past and present, simply making it easier to analyze it (Columbus). Essentially having a huge pile of data that never ends in order to calculate and see trends from customers, and then improve on it. Companies have now realized that in order to track all of their information, especially from customers, and amplify their business, they must adopt big data. Now that we live in an age where social media is like second nature to some, the amount of data pouring into companies is enormous. Businesses and online companies now know so much about us, they can now begin to modify your experience with their products and services specific to you.  Especially in my own generation, a lot of our data is going towards things like media entertainment and social media sharing. For music, because their is so much out there, companies like Spotify, that you need an account on, can see trends in what type of songs you like, artists you listen to, your favorite genres, and use it to make the whole experience of listening and finding music specific to you (Mills). That sort of process can be used, and is being used, with many companies involving a wide range of products that can be available when you want them, because big data allows them to know when you do. It also contributes to the safety of credit card information in using they websites, because they can see your normal buying and shopping trends, the data helps in recognizing fraud (Mills). Although it may be concerning for many companies to know and access your information and daily actions as well you do, the benefits are able to aid in some situations. Big data has even attributed to the way we use the option to online chat to find out further information or help us with issues on companies websites (Mills). While we may believe, and sometimes I even do myself, we are talking to an actual person on these websites, a lot of these chats for help are through data automated bots that, once again, try their best to customize the experience on the website based on the data history. Big data is already starting to impact and advance many companies around the United States, not only making it easier for the organizations themselves but also trying their best to make the customer have the best possible experience when participating in their services.

               Although big data provides a numerous amount of positives for companies and their customers, the amount of data that is being received by every user of the internet can cause fear of privacy, and that is exactly what Edward Snowden showed us beginning in 2013. Before 2013, many of us would not even question the security of the internet because of its reliability, easy to use features, and a common thought that certainly crossed my mind that was, “What would anyone want to do with my information?”. So if we were not scared of the internet and the data we were putting into it, why would we fear the government’s involvement in it all? Well we really should have had some caution, because we were clearly wrong. That brings us to Edward Snowden, a former subcontractor for National Security Agency (NSA) and the man who is credited with exposing many of the wrongdoings of our government and their faults with the accessing of our data (Biography.com). Among the many things that Snowden did leak, the most important to the topic of data are ones that bring that fear I mentioned previously to light. Familiar names such as Facebook and Google were some targets of the NSA, as they collected a numerous amount of user data with the help of a program called Prism (Szoldra). The system known as Prism, released in 2013, is essentially a program that allowed the NSA to retrieve data from nine large companies, some of the names being Facebook, Google, and Microsoft (Lee). In 2013, many of these company owners openly stated that they really had no idea of Prism’s existence, owner of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was one of the many to speak out about this, “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers” (Lee).  These massive companies like Facebook and Google, ones that almost every internet user knows of and participates on, were infiltrated by our government, which means all the data you have every put in whether it be personal, private, or public, they could see it if they so pleased. That is where big data shows its largest flaws, while it’s ability to show huge amounts of information and use it to feed trends and correlation is magnificent, there is still so much personal data there that obviously can be exposed to people for whom it was not initially intended. Of course the real intentions of our government and the NSA is for safety, though we must look and question the extent of which they went, that is where you can see that the length that our NSA was going with data surveillance was wrong, and not to mention they were breaking numerous amount of privacy laws (Szoldra). Another exposure by Snowden was the collection of metadata from the NSA, in which they only sought out for particular information through their program called EvilOlive (Szoldra). One example of this is when sending an email, the NSA would only receive the person who sent the email, and the user on the receiving end (Szoldra). While it is simple and carefree to go on your computer and lookup and search anything your heart desires, the government proved then that it can take away that feeling of privacy. Although, while there is panic around the issue, our society and it’s habits will not and really should not stop you from going on the internet and venturing through as one may normally do. Big data does not stop because our way of life is centered around technology and the internet, so the data coming in is infinite. Although Edward Snowden is now known as a criminal to many, his exposure of the wrongdoings with the government and their many breaches into our privacy and data was a major milestone in the protection of what we do online.

               While it is evident there has been issues with our government and the NSA with our data, our law enforcement has begun to introduce the idea, as well as put it into action, the use of big data. The NYPD is one of the first large law enforcement departments to put big data to use, with their method called the “domain awareness system” (Joh). This system is a huge advancement in helping solve cases and look for criminal action. It is done by connecting data from many different parts such as license plates, police cameras, and radiation awareness technology (Joh). Although, it seems to be the Los Angeles Police Department who have taken the biggest stride in their use of big data. They now have a specific division, known as the “Los Angeles Police Department Real-Time Analysis Critical Response Division”, that has linked with a company that specifies in catching terrorists, but now has moved to just policing with the LAPD (Ferguson). This division now has the ability track suspects, analyze prime locations for crime, and will soon be able to track crime through the use of social media data (Ferguson). One of the most used parts of this division is “the crime forecast”, which tells the highest percentage possible areas that will have criminal activity (Ferguson). They do so through an algorithm that analyzes a massive amount of criminal data that is able to pinpoint high percentage crime locations (Ferguson). While again all this use of big data is for our safety and extent of the possibilities for its use is quite endless, we must look further into seeing if it is too far. The involvement of big data in law enforcement is one that is already making strides to enhance the way policing is done, but we must analyze the length they go in looking into our information and if it is a breach on our privacy rights as citizens.

               Big data is just one of the many clear examples of how our society is integrating new uses of technology. Big data directly connects technology and society. In order to gain big data itself, they need data points, that is where society comes in. We offer this specific and advance system all its key parts. As humanity continues to rise in its uses of technological devices and services, the data that is coming in is never ending. This offers all users of big data clear results because our society is now too dependant on things like technology and the internet, therefore I see no expiration date in companies and services using big data in the future. Also, as big data services only begin to advance websites, products, and business’, everything will be personalised and made for the specific customer. This technology has a huge impact on our society as we will no longer need to ask some for help in the store, call customer service, or just simply browse the internet without any intended destination. Big data will already be able to predict your destination, and will begin to make our lives easier along with making it a life with no need for interaction. As mentioned earlier, with all this data that is being put in and it being constantly analyzed and tracked, there is precaution for privacy. As we all believed we were completely protected, Snowden proved that sense of privacy can be breached. The simplest solution to getting rid of this is for everyone to stop using all data generating services, but that is obviously unattainable. I believe that protection of our data is a right, and although our government has been unreliable in the past, they need to address these issues further. But again a huge obstacle is that there is so much data out there and it is only rising, making it so hard to monitor it all. Although with big data, we are the fuel. Without society, this technology means nothing. Our society needs to learn and be aware what they are putting on the internet and the way they use it. While the integration of big data in shopping and music is great, we must pay more attention to things like personal information on Facebook, or emails you send to certain people and the content in that email. The reality is that truly nothing on the internet is private anymore, and big data services allow companies and businesses to use that data and form it the way they please. While it is evident big data offers so much to our society, the technology is so strong that we must plan for the future and find a way to regulate the data that is being tracked.


                                                                                                Works Cited

Columbus, Louis. “53% Of Companies Are Adopting Big Data Analytics.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Dec. 2017,                       www.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2017/12/24/53-of-companies-are-adopting-big-data-analytics/#5910d89839a1.


“Edward Snowden.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 6 Feb. 2018,  www.biography.com/people/edward-snowden-21262897.


Facebook. “Data Policy.” Facebook, Facebook, 29 Sept. 2016, www.facebook.com/policy.php.


Ferguson, Andrew Guthrie. “The Rise of Big Data Policing.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 22 Oct. 2017, techcrunch.com/2017/10/22/the-rise-of-big-data-policing/.


Howard, Jacqueline. “Americans at More than 10 Hours a Day on Screens.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 July 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html


Joh, Elizabeth. “What Big Data Means for the Fourth Amendment.” Criminal Law, Jotwell, 2 Jan. 2016, crim.jotwell.com/what-big-data-means-for-the-fourth-amendment/


Lee, Timothy B. “Here’s Everything We Know about PRISM to Date.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 12 June 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/06/12/heres-everything-we-know-about-prism-to-date/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7cf79836e4d1.


Mani, Kyle. “Big Data and Its Impact on Personal Privacy.” Web Design Marketing Company in Houston Texas, OWDT, 20 Oct. 2017, owdt.com/how-big-data-is-impacting-business-and-personal-privacy/.


Mills, Terence. “Big Data Is Changing The Way People Live Their Lives.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 16 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/05/16/big-data-is-changing-the-way-people-live-their-lives/#68a5f2a73ce6.


Szoldra, Paul. “This Is Everything Edward Snowden Revealed in One Year of Unprecedented Top-Secret Leaks.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Sept. 2016, www.businessinsider.com/snowden-leaks-timeline-2016-9.