UPDATED 11:10 EST / AUGUST 18 2012

Big Data: The Good, Bad and Ugly

It isn’t often that a confluence of news stories leads to an editorial epiphany, as it has this week. Good epiphanies are hard to find; I’m lucky if I get one or two a year.

This week, as most weeks go, gave us a heaping helping of stories on Big Data (after all, I’ve just returned from the Cassandra Summit in Santa Clara with John Furrier and Jeff Kelly). Like most other weeks, it’s raining “Big Data” everywhere. Folks like you and me mostly assume it’s due to the hype of Big Data-washing we’re starting to see in enterprise tech, but the truth is that for the rest of the wide world, the last month or so has seen the light dawn in the mainstream tech world’s eyes on Big Data.

And frankly, not everyone likes what they see. Mike Wheatley recounted the February tale of how Big Data allowed Target to unwittingly alert a pregnant teen’s dad to learn the news the most awkward way possible as a backdrop to the welcome wagon people are getting to Big Data via the New York Times. As Mike pointed out, people just now seem to be wising up to the privacy implications of all this.

Of course, many of us witnessed the birth of many of these same concerns at the advent of the social networking craze just a few years ago, so it’s easy to make the mistake that nothing new is under the sun – that is until you realize that it’s not just the monolithic corporations of the world that have the ability to access and algorithmically divine private information from public data.

This was my epiphany: each and every one of us has the ability to cross-reference, and soon we’ll all have the surreptitious ability to do it real time. It was obvious to me as I perused the top posts from our network this week while absently fondling the block of glass telling me I will be the 1,653rd person to live as a Google augmented cyborg. I’ll be your big brother, along with everyone else.

Progress stops for no one; we certainly live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes, particularly for a publication dedicating to documenting the crossroads of computer science and social science.

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