Do We Understand Data?

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Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is at a conference.

Data

1 Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.

  1. 1.1 The quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed by a computer, which may be stored and transmitted in the form of electrical signals and recorded on magnetic, optical, or mechanical recording media.

Example sentences

  1. 1.2 Philosophy Things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.

I originally wanted to write an article regarding GDPR from a SQL Server DBA aspect, but there are already some very good ones out there from Richard Macaskill and even one from Microsoft. What I decided to write about was data; or more specifically, our understanding or attitude towards it. As Data Professionals, we all have a firm grasp of what data is and how we use it, or at least we should if we want to perform our work correctly. However earlier this year a scandal has erupted over Facebook storing user data, and an analytics company called Cambridge Analytica who allegedly harvested that data from Facebook. There are allegations that this information was used to possibly influence political elections, such as the EU Referendum and 2016 US Presidential Election.

This is quite startling when you consider it: exploited data, through voter profiling and “fake news”, can now help determine the result of political elections. Who is to blame in this? Facebook? CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that they relied on CA to delete the data themselves, which is quite alarming. Ultimately is it our fault, or us as Facebook users for putting too much of our data onto social media as a whole? Are we not thinking about what we are freely giving up?

Jen Stirrup, a data strategist, gave an interview to the BBC about the value and use of the data we freely give up, but we don’t expect to be manipulated, not just by Facebook, but by any person or company who controls or stores data. Ms Stirrup also states that there is a lack of transparency about companies such as Facebook about what they are exactly doing with our personal data. This I where I feel it is down to both sides, us and the data collectors that really don't understand the data they have or why we are giving it away too freely.

Regardless of whether it is structured or unstructured, big or small, what device it came from, who or where it is stored, it is interesting to gauge out attitude to something that dominates our world like never before yet it most of it lives in a virtual state. I read in a great presentation from Rimma Nehme, that 90% of the data existing today was created in the last two years. Quite a surprising statistic.

Nearly every day I see on my LinkedIn feed horror stories about how people are preparing (or not) themselves in readiness for GDPR, which is where companies can now be heavily fined if they don't handle personal data with appropriate care and due dilligence.  In the UK, I have noticed that some shops are asking for my email address, so they can email me my receipt (it’s greener they say), but I tend not to hand it over as I am not sure what they plan to do with my email address afterwards. Will it be deleted? Obviously GDPR will cover this, but I still have my doubts.

But are companies doing enough to protect our data? It seems be be every week there is news of some large corporation or government institution that has suffered a data breach.  I feel it is one reason why I think GDPR is going to cause issues for many companies because they don’t understand what data they hold and they don’t protect it enough, and they don’t know to designate different types of data. The layperson in the street just doesn’t have a grasp of data in the modern world, yet is responsible for creating much of it.

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