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Why Big Data could be a Big Concern

Big Data – from a lawyer’s perspective

Big data is a term that, by now, has been around for a while, and it’s often casually referred to as the “next big thing”. It is also a concept in constant redefinition of itself and therefore hard to fully grasp and understand. Nevertheless, let’s make an effort to get a basic understanding of big data, and how it can be utilized.

In very simple terms, big data is all the data generated either by us, as individuals, or machine-generated data and it’s one of the driving forces behind the digital transformation, such as the Internet of Things (“IoT”) and artificial intelligence. The amount of data so generated has exploded in recent years and is growing at an almost exponential rate. Data is generated as we carry our smartphones (all equipped with GPS), when we communicate via social media and when we make transactions online. Data is also generated by machines and, not least, vehicles, connected to the Internet.

The basic principle behind big data is that, the more you know about anything, the easier and more reliable it will be to make predictions about what will happen in the future. Previously hidden relationships between data points could be identified and help us make informed decisions about future events.

Big data have a seemingly endless number of applications and could be used to, i.e. cure disease (by analyzing a large amount of medical records and identify patterns to help spot disease early), to feed the hungry (by analyzing data used to maximize crop yields and optimize the use of machines and equipment). The application with the largest financial potential however, has been identified as the manufacturing industry. World leading consultancy firm McKinsey has estimated the economic impact for the manufacturing industry to a whopping 3.700 billion USD, and it’s easy to see why. The use of big data and connected devices in the manufacturing industry could, among many other things, be used for:

  • better asset utilization;
  • higher productivity;
  • material flow optimization;
  • predictive maintenance of machinery; and
  • easy and fast adaptation of machinery and factory layout.

While it is easy to conclude that the potential of big data is huge, some concerns could also be raised. Not least relating to data privacy. The upcoming EU General Data Protection (“GDPR”) for personal data will be implemented as of 25 May 2018, and is currently keeping lawyers throughout the European Union (and elsewhere!) busy. The new legislation applies to all personal data, which is defined as any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person who could be identified directly or indirectly. Much of the data referred to as big data therefore falls within the scope of the GDPR and must be handled accordingly. Among other things, this means that consent must be collected from the natural persons to which the personal data relates, data must only be stored for as long as necessary, data must be stored according to strict security requirements, the natural persons concerned have a right to be forgotten (i.e that all data relating to them must be erased upon their request) etc.

In conclusion, big data and the IoT, offer great possibilities and it’s safe to say that we are amid a digital revolution. However, considering the strict legislation in place, companies are advised to proceed with a healthy amount of caution and awareness to make the transition to the new digital reality as smooth as possible!

Mats Tingstrand
Chief Legal Officer - The FlexQube Group


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