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Something big is about to take place by next year. Every second about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created about you and every other human being on the planet, experts predict. This massive accumulation of information, documenting everything from your medical records to your footprint on social media, is known as big data.
Today more and more companies depend on big data to guide their operations, like tracking the trends and patterns of their customers, said Rhode Island College Professor of Computer Information Systems Kyungub Choi.

Big data already plays a major role in your lives:
  • Big data helps you get to work on time. Data found in GPS systems such as Waze and magnetic sensors on roadways help agencies manage the roads by setting traffic light sequences and redirecting bus routes.
  • Big data helps prioritize items featured in your Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds. 
  • Big data, in the form of digitized records, helps medical professionals determine effective treatments and track the spread of disease. 
  • Big data is used to keep you safe. Data scientists collect information to analyze when crime might occur online and offline. Police then use this information to send officers where they are most needed to save lives or solve crimes.
  • Big data helps retailers determine items their customers buy and to then send additional product recommendations.
Soon big data will inform driverless vehicles, which will change the face of the automobile industry. “Cars these days are basically computers with four wheels,” Choi said. “The technology is ready to create driverless cars, which use big data and algorithms to make turns, stop at traffic lights and stop for pedestrians. The last hurdle for driverless cars is for government leaders and policymakers to determine who would be responsible legally for  driverless cars – the car manufacturer, the passenger in the car or the company that developed the car’s computer algorithm.”

“Big data is a field that is connected to artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics,” Choi said. “These new technologies are emerging quickly and taking over jobs. If people aren’t aware of how to acquire skills to develop, maintain and enhance big data, it will impact their livelihoods professionally in the workplace.”

But with companies collecting up to 146 gigabytes of data on you per day, many people are  concerned about their privacy, said Rhode Island College Assistant Professor of Sociology Ben Brucato. 

“Information is constantly collected from so many sources, and legacy information is transferred and usually sold to third parties,” Brucato said. “Part of the challenge with big data and privacy is reflected in the way we tend to talk about privacy. For instance, we wonder what consumers can do to protect their information. It always begins with and often ends with the individual to protect one’s own privacy.”

Brucato said the government is doing little to defend the privacy of citizens, citing a measure passed by Congress in 2017 that rolled back FCC regulations requiring Internet service providers to ask permission of users before selling their personal data.  

“Because of a lack of governmental policies that provide sufficient privacy protections, private Internet use requires extensive technical subterfuge and countersurveillance that most people would lack knowledge of,” Brucato said.

He advised people who desire privacy to refrain from using all social media, retail shopping and free email services. For those who have never used the Internet, they should consider using a web browser like Tor Browsers, which make it more difficult for companies to trace users’ visits across the Internet, Brucato said.