I recently came across the term “big data” to describe the information sites such as Facebook collect from subscribers and users. It came up in a conversation regarding Internet security, and I had a mixed reaction to it. As a consumer, I am increasingly concerned about the information that is collected and recorded about me and my habits. As a business journalist, I see the value of collecting this data and, in fact, realize there is a significant dollar value attached to it.
The Wall Street Journal today reports OnStar will soon be collecting and sharing data from vehicles that contain OnStar equipment, even if the owner of the car isn't an OnStar subscriber. That data will be shared with other vehicles and with law enforcement, the company told the WSJ:
- Why is OnStar doing this? “We're looking at future services that we might introduce,” said Vijay Iyer, a public relations official with OnStar. “We want to make sure we get our vehicles and hardware ready now and be as transparent with our customers as possible before that.”
I'll give OnStar credit for the disclosure and admitting to the fact this is in large part an R&D and marketing move.
I've informally reached out to companies in the supply chain to understand the business aspect of big data. Companies are generally reluctant to discuss this because their need and use of this data are considered confidential. This is consistent with my experience in the supply chain. Distributors, in particular, collect data to share with both suppliers and customers. Suppliers receive information such as point-of-sale (POS) — customer names, and how their product is used. Suppliers can then allocate sales and engineering resources to the appropriate markets. Customers receive suppliers' product roadmaps, end-of-life plans, product specs, and lots of other stuff that help them in component selection.
Distributors also protect data, such as how much product one customer is buying or which EMS that product is shipped to. That's been SOP in the channel for as long as I can remember.
The security aspect of big data that most concerns companies is the misuse or misappropriation of the information. Hackers stealing credit card numbers is a prime example. But I see a difference between information I freely provide versus information I don't know I am sharing.
When I key in my credit card number on an online site, I know the risks. What I don't know is whether my buying habits are being scrutinized (they are), who or what is scrutinizing them, what it is being used for, and what the result may be. (Usually it is an email trying to sell me something.) I understand I can opt out of a lot of things, my PC and network have tools I can use, there are policy and practice guidelines on every service I buy or subscribe to, and there are numerous ways to protect myself. I'm not even going to get into a debate of whether this is right or wrong: it is what it is.
Here's my question to the industry: anecdotes, research, and reports tell us that customers want “ease of use.” To me, that includes skipping through the pages and pages of disclosure forms and privacy statements that come up every time the iStore changes something, Adobe wants me to update my software, or I subscribe to a service.
To the purchasing audience: Are you concerned about the issue of big data every time a PO goes out? To suppliers and distributors: Do your customers know every bit of information you retain from them? And to sales and marketing people: How useful is this information, and how do you measure the value? I think we could have a great discussion about this and collect — for all to see — a lot of great information.