“Big data” creates both opportunities and risks for consumers

ACCAN present their submission on the advantages and disadvantages to do with large collections of online data from consumers

Many organisations are building very large collections of information about consumers — shopping habits, locations, web browsing history, telephone and energy usage, traffic, weather, stock market information, and so on. “Big data” refers to these large collections of data.

Big data can be turned into useful information using a variety of methods. For example, if you buy a book from an online shop, more books can be suggested for you to buy based on the shopping history of other customers who bought the same book as you. For another example, by looking at the regions that make the most web searches for “flu”, researchers can potentially find out more information about how the flu virus spreads.

Governments, large companies, and social media services all hold large amounts of information about individuals, and this information can potentially be used with big data methods to generate the kinds of useful information mentioned above.

ACCAN has recently made a submission to the draft “big data strategy” issues paper released by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). AGIMO’s issues paper outlines some ways for the Australian Government to taking advantage of big data.


ACCAN’s submission expresses some concerns about AGIMO’s strategy paper, including:

  • While the strategy paper does refer to possible privacy concerns arising from big data, we do not think there is enough recognition of consumer expectations about how their data is used.
  • We caution that inappropriate use of information gathered through social media such as Facebook and Twitter is likely to damage consumer trust in government.
  • The strategy paper is largely speculative, pointing to the “potential” and possibilities of big data methods, rather than providing any concrete evidence of how these methods could benefit consumers or society. Before any big data program is introduced, clear evidence is needed that the program will provide real benefits while reducing any risks.

AGIMO’s big data strategy: http://agimo.gov.au/2013/03/15/released-big-data-strategy-issues-paper/

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