Parkland Press

Monday, March 30, 2020


Thursday, May 10, 2018 by The Press in Opinion

Is big data trending?

Cambridge Analytica is closing.

In May 2 headlines in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the firm announced plans to file for bankruptcy and, effectively shut down.

Cambridge Analytica recently was at the center of a political storm after revelations of its role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and how big data harvested from social media can be used or misused.

In the British edition of the digital magazine WIRED, writer Christopher Stokel-Walker, reports the firm admits to no wrongdoing.

Moreover, the activities used by the company were legal and standard practice in online advertising, Stokel-Walker quotes from a statement supplied by Cambridge Analytica.

The revelations about social media’s role in the controversy brought Mark Zuckerberg, social media’s most public face, before Congress in April to explain.

Sara Ingber of National Public Radio’s breaking news arm “The Two Way” wrote Cambridge Analytica felt negative media coverage had driven away most of the company’s customers and suppliers.

A defeat for big data, perhaps?

Not so fast.

On May 6, the National Institutes of Health launched the All of Us Research Program, inviting 1 million people to share healthcare information so that “in the future, researchers can use this to conduct thousands of health studies,” according to the agency’s website.

The goal of the program is to create “precision medicine” to “tell people the best ways to stay healthy” factoring in variables such where one lives and works and personal and family health history.

Privacy is to be protected. Medical information and samples are to be collected. Research is expected to continue for “the long-term,” according to the website.

These examples are provided to, hopefully, illustrate the reach of big data into daily life.

Those behind the All of Us Research Program are seeking 1 million participants. According to news articles, as many as 87 million Facebook users were used in Cambridge Analytica’s work.

Meanwhile, big data and how to use it can be studied locally in academic courses and programs at DeSales University, Lehigh University, Moravian College, Muhlenberg College and Penn State Center Valley, to name a few.

News headlines told recently of the use of big data to help pursue a suspected rapist and killer.

And concerns and stories of data breaches from telecommunication companies to ride share services to consumer credit reporting agencies surface weekly if not daily.

Is big data a tool for the common good? Can big data be a tool for evil?

We may have to wait for the next headline.

April Peterson

editorial assistant

East Penn Press

Salisbury Press