With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

August 10, 2015 by Craig Boundy

Our world today runs on data. It’s changing the way we browse the Internet, run our businesses, treat medical patients and invest in technology. It’s the key to solving society’s biggest problems: famine, disease, poverty and ineffective education. And it is powering the global economy.

But the data-driven economy is at a crossroads. With the eruption of information, we also open ourselves up to new risks and privacy concerns. As companies adopt more interconnected products and systems, the “Internet of Things” could usher in the next wave of challenges that range from data breaches to other potential privacy concerns if information is used improperly. As a society, we must decide whether to champion the explosion of connected information or allow its detractors to significantly constrain the innovation and growth ahead.

Since 2007, data-related products and services have generated about 30% of real personal consumption growth, second only to healthcare goods and services, according to a 2014 report from the Progressive Policy Institute. The mobile app industry alone accounted for more than 750,000 jobs in 2013-jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the explosion of the Internet of Things promises to mine our households’ daily or minute-by-minute behaviors to save money and improve lifestyles. Soon it is very likely that our personal genomic information will be used to clinically treat our current ailments and prevent the next ones. And of course, the financial industry is using big data to help consumers secure more affordable loans, improve their credit scores, protect their identities, ward off fraudulent transactions and ensure that they are marketing products and services to the right customers at the right time and across the right channels.

Companies need to be able to sift through large amounts of data, find patterns and distill the key takeaways in order to make better decisions, improve our society and in turn, drive our economy forward.

But with all the headline news surrounding fraud and data privacy, consumer confidence may be shaken. Over the last year and half, cyberattacks on corporations have become more common. Many consumers have fallen victim to the loss of personal identifiable information in many forms. These events have had a tremendous impact on the way consumers and companies think about data and the future of data.

These are very real concerns, and they should be at the center of every discussion we have about the future of the data-driven economy. However, as challenging as these times may be, we cannot let these events dissuade us from realizing the full potential of data to help us do really good things for society as whole.

Fortunately, today’s corporate leaders have an opportunity to proactively head off consumers’ uncertainty and fears about big data and keep the data economy open and healthy. But doing so will require businesses to operate differently than they have in the past.

Companies need to operate on bedrock information values-values that dictate and ensure mandatory training for all employees, strict compliance rules and regulations, dedicated compliance officers and data governance experts and ongoing improvements to keep security and ethics at a company’s core.

These philosophies should be so central to a company that they find their way into key business processes, and touch every single employee and every aspect of operations. It’s up to the business sector to earn the trust of consumers and lawmakers and create the legislative and regulatory conditions that allow the data-driven economy to thrive.

And it’s up to the people and companies that work with big data every day to advance how data can be used for good.

In the late fifth century, the emerging medical profession reached a point where it needed unifying principles to guide the actions of physicians across many countries and many time periods. Now data-driven industries also need a way to ensure they advance data for societal good even at expense of profit optimization. We can do this by establishing common goals that give data professionals core values to adhere to, irrespective of their location and their individual companies’ own culture and standards.

The data economy has both incredible opportunity for growth and a real danger of stagnation. Only by committing to the responsible use of data can we transform our economy and the ways we operate within it.

Originally Published: American Banker

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