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Big Data

The volume of digitally recorded information has increased exponentially in recent years and has made the term Big Data omnipresent. Purchasing books online, chatting with friends on social networks, and downloading videos on mobile phones, are just a few of the activities that contributed to a total of 1.8 zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes) of stored data sets in 2011. By 2015, this amount is predicted to grow to 7.9 zettabytes.

Big Data is defined by four characteristics: data volume, variety, velocity, and value, while often lacking structural or organizational patterns. In order to effectively use the vast amounts of data obtained from consumer activity, it is necessary to engage professional data analysts and software to evaluate and organize this complex information. By “separating the signal from the noise,” commercial and government organizations are then able to gain actual insights into customer behavior and needs and as a result, enhance products and services.

The increased availability of smart, connected devices combined with an unprecedented level of memory processing capacities as well as significantly reduced storage prices created new challenges for the handling of digital data. Since Big Data information is often an unintentional byproduct of general user, buyer, and customer activity, the ubiquitous information collection has raised concerns about privacy and data protection.

Two upcoming events at the German Center for Research and Innovation GCRI on May 16 and June 27 with Dr. Jeanette Hoffmann from the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) and Gerhard Weikum, Research Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Informatics (MPII), will address the benefits and future challenges of Big Data. Please visit the GCRI website for more information and to register for the seminar.


I. Thoughts on Big Data
By Dr. Jeanette Hofmann, Research Fellow, Cultural Sources of Newness, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), and one of the directors of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society [Dr. Hofmann will speak at the upcoming GCRI event, “Temptations of Big Data,” on May 16, 2013.]

The term Big Data has been in use since 2008, but only in 2012 did it hit the mainstream media. For some, Big Data indicates a new era where data sets measured in petabytes and larger have become the norm. Critics, on the other hand, find nothing new in Big Data. Census data, they argue, have always been big. The term Big Data may thus fall into the category of what the Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking calls “elevator words.” Definitions of elevator words are vague, if not circular, and their value is volatile. Big Data applications that sound promising today might be associated with data leaks and surveillance tomorrow. For now, however, Big Data connotes new ways of aggregating, analyzing, and exploiting data.

Interestingly, 75% of online data is generated by individuals while 80% is held by companies. Big Data creates economic value. If AGFA (Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon) constituted an economy, it would already be the 49th largest out of 194. From a user’s perspective, Big Data looks like a double-edged sword. No doubt, society benefits from a rapidly growing array of new information services that make everyday life more convenient. At the same time, the quality of many personalized information services depends on the amount of data about us that is stored. With the use of digital assistants and other smart phone applications, we are disclosing increasing amounts of information about ourselves without knowing the future consequences of such informational generosity.

II. Benefits and Challenges of Big Data: Interview with Prof. Dieter Kempf

Prof. Dieter Kempf is the President of the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, Germany (BITKOM e.V.). Representing more than 1,700 tech companies, BITKOM seeks to promote the collaboration of all ICT-related enterprises, creating a permanent exchange among experts and executives.

In this GCRI interview, Prof. Kempf discusses benefits and challenges of Big Data accumulation and technologies in Germany, especially with regard to legal frameworks and privacy issues. Since July 1996, Prof. Kempf has served as Chairman of the Executive Board of DATEV eG, a software company and IT service provider for tax consultants, auditors and lawyers. He began his career as a DATEV board member in 1991 where he was in charge of the divisions of product and software development. Prior to working with DATEV, Prof. Kempf was an auditing assistant with a specialization as electronic data-processing (EDP) auditor for Arthur Young GmbH auditing firm (later Ernst & Young GmbH), and completed internships in France and the U.S. In 1984, he became authorized signatory and leader of the EDP-Auditing and EDP-Consulting Group at Arthur Young. Subsequently, Prof. Kempf served as Partner (shareholder-managing director) from 1989 until 1991.

Prof. Kempf became Associate Professor for Business Administration at Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg in 2005. He was born in Munich and holds a diploma in Business Administration from Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.

To read the interview, click here.

________ “Source: German Center for Research and Innovation, E-NNOVATION GERMANY newsletter, Issue 36, March 2013.”