What Big Data Is and How It Might Change With Web3

Big data refers to the vast, complex datasets that shape our online experiences. Here’s a guide to understanding how it’s used.

Jan 16, 2024
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What Is Big Data And How Does It Work With Web3

Key Takeaways:

  • Volume, velocity, variety, and veracity define big data, reflecting its size, speed, diversity, and data quality challenges.
  • Big data from online sources, like web analytics and social media, provides valuable insights, impacting both user experience and business decisions.
  • The extensive collection of user data raises privacy concerns, however, necessitating robust security measures and regulatory compliance.
  • Web3’s decentralisation could reshape big data management and ownership, enhancing user privacy and control over how their data is used.

What Is Big Data?

Big data refers to extremely large and complex sets of data that cannot be easily managed, processed, or analysed with traditional data processing tools. The term ‘big data’ encompasses not only the size of the data but also its velocity, variety, and veracity. 

The four Vs of big data

The characteristics of big data are often referred to as the ‘Four Vs’:

Volume: Big data involves the processing of large volumes of data. This could be data in the order of petabytes or exabytes, far beyond the capacity of traditional databases.

Velocity: This refers to the speed at which data is generated, collected, and processed. With the advent of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time data streams, data is generated at an unprecedented speed.

Variety: Big data comes in a variety of formats, including structured data (like databases), unstructured data (such as text and images), and semi-structured data (like XML files). Dealing with this diverse range of data types is a challenge in big data analytics.

Veracity: Veracity refers to the reliability and accuracy of the data. With big data, there’s often a mix of trustworthy and unreliable data, and making sense of it requires careful consideration of data quality.

In addition to the Four Vs, some discussions also include additional characteristics like value (the ability to turn data into value) and variability (the inconsistency of the data). 

What Is Big Data Used For?

The analysis of big data often involves advanced analytics techniques, including machine learning, to extract meaningful insights and patterns from vast and complex datasets.

Its use has become increasingly important in various fields, including business, healthcare, finance, science, and more, as organisations seek to gain valuable insights, make informed decisions, and improve overall efficiency.

For example, big data has helped to predict the landfall of Hurricane Sandy five days in advance, and many hospitals collect and analyse big data to improve healthcare.

What Is Big Data Generated Online Used For?

The internet is a major source of the massive amounts of data that fall under the umbrella of big data. 

A single smartphone user is estimated to generate around 40 exabytes of data every month — through texting, messages, emails, Google searches, browsing history, social media comments, online shopping history, and many other data points. Currently, there are almost 7 billion smartphones worldwide, amounting to mind-boggling numbers of big data.

Below are a few ways how social media services, search engines, and other online platforms use online data:

Web Analytics

Websites and online platforms generate a wealth of data related to user behaviour, preferences, and interactions. Web analytics tools collect and analyse this data to provide insights into user trends, improve user experience, and inform business decisions.

Social Media

Social media platforms are a major source of big data. The vast amount of user-generated content, interactions, and engagement metrics provides valuable information for businesses, marketers, and researchers.

Search Engines 

Search engines process and store massive amounts of data related to search queries, user behaviour, and content indexing. This data is crucial for improving search algorithms and understanding user intent.

E-commerce

Online shopping generates extensive data on consumer preferences, purchase history, and browsing behaviour. Retailers use this data for personalised marketing, recommendation systems, and inventory management.

Streaming Services

Platforms that provide streaming services for music, videos, and other content generate large amounts of data related to user preferences and viewing habits. This data is used to recommend content and enhance the user experience.

Cybersecurity

The internet is also a battleground for cybersecurity, and big data analytics play a crucial role in detecting and preventing cyber threats. Analysing network logs, user behaviour, and system data helps identify abnormal patterns indicative of security incidents.

The internet serves as a vast ecosystem for the generation, transmission, and storage of big data. The interplay between big data and the internet has transformed how businesses operate, individuals interact online, and information is processed and utilised across various domains.

Why Are People Concerned About Big Data?

The impact of big data on the internet can have both positive and negative implications for users, and it largely depends on how data is collected, managed, and used. 

Below are potential drawbacks of big data on the internet:

Privacy Concerns

The extensive collection of user data, especially personal information, has raised privacy concerns. Users may feel uncomfortable knowing that their online activities, preferences, and behaviours are being tracked and analysed.

Regulatory frameworks (such as GDPR in Europe) and increasing awareness have prompted companies to be more transparent about data collection practices and provide users with control over their data. However, privacy challenges persist.

Security Risks

The large volumes of data stored and processed present attractive targets for cybercriminals. Data breaches can lead to the exposure of sensitive information, causing harm to individuals.

Organisations are investing in cybersecurity measures to protect against data breaches. Encryption, multi-factor authentication, and regular security audits are amongst the strategies used to enhance data security.

Algorithmic Bias

Big data analytics often rely on algorithms to make predictions and decisions. If the data used for training these algorithms is biased, it can lead to discriminatory outcomes.

Efforts are being made to address algorithmic bias through improved data quality, transparency in algorithmic decision-making, and ongoing monitoring to identify and correct biases.

User Manipulation and Profiling

Big data is sometimes used to create detailed user profiles, enabling targeted advertising and personalised content. While this can enhance user experience, it can also lead to manipulation and filter bubbles, where users are exposed only to information that aligns with their existing views.

Greater transparency in data usage, user consent mechanisms, and ethical guidelines can help mitigate the risks of user manipulation and profiling.

Lack of Understanding

Many users may not fully understand how their data is collected, processed, and used. This lack of awareness can contribute to a sense of loss of control over personal information.

Improved communication and education about data practices can empower users to make informed decisions about their online activities and the data they share.

How Will Web3 Change Big Data?

Web3 refers to a vision of the next generation of the World Wide Web, often associated with decentralised technologies and blockchain. While the concept of Web3 is still evolving, it’s expected to have several implications for big data:

Decentralisation

Decentralised technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrency characterise Web3. This could impact how data is stored, shared, and accessed, moving away from central servers to distributed networks and data ownership by a few (think Google and Facebook), like in Web2.

This could change the way big data is managed. Instead of relying on centralised databases, data could be distributed across a network of nodes, providing enhanced security and transparency for users.

Data Ownership and Privacy

Web3 aims to give users greater control over their data and digital identities, where users may have more ownership and control over the data they generate.

As individuals gain more control over their data, there could be changes in how organisations collect, store, and use data. Enhanced data privacy measures may influence the types and amounts of data available for big data analytics.

Smart Contracts and Automation

Smart contracts, enabled by blockchain technology, allow for self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement directly written into code. This could automate certain processes and transactions.

This could also streamline data transactions, reduce manual intervention, and improve the efficiency of data-related processes in the context of big data analytics.

Interoperability

Web3 envisions greater interoperability between different platforms and services, fostering a more connected and collaborative digital environment.

Improved interoperability can facilitate the integration of diverse datasets from various sources, contributing to a more comprehensive and holistic approach to big data analytics.

It’s important to note that the development and adoption of Web3 technologies are ongoing, and their full impact on big data will become clearer as these technologies mature and are more widely adopted. 

Conclusion

It’s essential to recognise that, while there are potential downsides, big data also brings significant benefits, such as improved services, personalised recommendations, and advancements in fields like healthcare and research. 

The Web3 movement is a proponent of protecting user privacy and personal details, with a critical stance on big data and how it is currently used in the age of Web2. Striking a balance between leveraging the advantages of big data and addressing its challenges is crucial for creating a positive and ethical environment for internet users. Regulatory measures, industry best practices, and user awareness play key roles in shaping the impact of big data on the internet. 

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