HP Discover: Does Big Data mean Big Brother?

Last year the big buzzword around the HP Discover show floor was Cloud Computing. This year, although cloud is still being used, the new keyword appears to be Big Data. Like cloud, there is no official definition for Big Data and it means different things to different people. While some believe their 500GB structured database is "Big Data," others think that the definition should include 10TB of unstructured data.

Despite that, everyone seems to have one common goal: Real-time analytics of the data. In addition, the common example given at HP Discover seems to be around retail stores being able to give instant feedback to customers shopping in their stores. Spend some time in the TV section and receive a text offering you a $100 coupon. Visit the frozen food department and get an offer for buy two, get one free frozen pizza. In essence, stores want to take the next step from their “loyalty” cards and encourage you to purchase while you’re shopping and not just know what you bought after the fact.

The obvious way to handle this would be to receive GPS information from everyone’s cell phone, presumably after they install a store-specific app, but RFID or camera/facial recognition may also be an option. While these targeted advertisements sound great on the surface, in reality the stores are spying on all of their customers. The question is whether this is a good or bad thing. If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, the current generation of users does not care about personal privacy and many see the sharing of information as a positive rather than an infringement. Being able to opt-in/opt-out will also be important topics to explore.

With the explosion of Big Data, the matter of data policies will also come into the forefront. Will there be restrictions on what companies can do with the data they collect? Does the information need to be purged at certain intervals or is it allowed to be harvested and stored for eternity if the company wants? With storage and analytics becoming cheaper and cheaper, companies will be more likely to keep everything, “just in case,” similar to how consumers tend to keep most of their email messages.

So the question remains: Do you see a problem with stores collecting information about you, including your physical locations within their store, and using this dataset to target ads/discounts/products to you? Is this the next evolution of personalization, or is it Big Brother watching and recording even more of our lives?

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