Can sharing data make the world a better place?

sharing data
Feb 11 2015

Can sharing data make the world a better place?

Cures for disease, increased food production and higher graduation rates are most likely not the first outcomes you associate with big data. Worrisome incidents of data being stolen from major retailers and other businesses that have recently made the news may be more familiar. Those stories bring an important point to light and it’s vital that consumers and companies take protecting private data very seriously. But that same personal data – whether it’s about your health, finances or shopping history – can help organizations create incredible innovations that have the ability to improve the lives of every person on the planet. So why does data collection seem so scary?

The root of distrust is in misunderstanding

While consumers are certainly leery of the information that is being collected about them, much of that distrust comes from a lack of understanding. Consumers are unsure of what data is being collected, by whom and for what purpose.

According to a survey conducted online in September by Harris Poll on behalf of Intel among over 2,000 U.S. adults, 65 percent of people who own a smart phone, tablet or personal computer have no idea who has access to the data from their devices or how that data is used. Just like any new experience, not knowing what lies around the corner can be the scariest part. Over four out of five device owners have concerns about what businesses or organizations have access to their data and how they are using that data. But if they knew, would they be as concerned? Most businesses and organizations anonymize data to protect consumers’ privacy before the data is ever used. Their goal is not to exploit the consumer or the individual; it is to gain a better understanding of the sample that can then be used for research that leads to new inventions and innovations such as the cure for a disease or ways to ease traffic congestion.

Positive ways data can be used

Big data can do some seriously remarkable things. Organizations, researchers and scientists rely on information to facilitate smarter farming practices that use less water and feed more people, build smarter and more connected cities and even discover the cure for devastating diseases. For example, Intel has paired up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to improve Parkinson’s disease monitoring and treatment. The partnership uses information collected from wearable technologies that monitor symptoms to detect patterns in participant data. Once information about symptoms is collected, researchers can analyze the data to measure the progression of the disease objectively and aggregate anonymous data from all of the patients in the trial to gain a new understanding of the disease for better treatments and eventually, possibly a cure. This same data analysis platform could also help doctors and scientists more effectively treat other illnesses such as HIV or cancer.

There are many great opportunities that come with responsible data use, but in order to encourage innovation, people and businesses must take an active role in protecting privacy. Fortunately, there is plenty of technology that can ensure proper use, and businesses are beginning to understand the power of privacy and what it can help create. As a result, many companies are building systems today that allow confident use and analysis of personal data, while still providing the transparency and accountability needed to eliminate misuse. There’s still work to be done, but we’re headed in the right direction.

When consumers are willing to share

When asked if they would be open to sharing their data if it would be used to benefit society, 45 percent of device owners agreed they would. However, once a specific purpose was identified, some owners had a change of heart: 57 percent of device owners would share health data from fitness applications to aid in medical research as long as sensitive personal information was excluded, and 59 percent of device owners who are parents would share their child’s educational data to help improve graduation rates or local school systems – if personal information were redacted, according to the survey.

When people know the specifics of what big data can do, how it is being used and that it is being protected properly, they are far more willing to share their data. Big data and analytics can give society the power to change the world as we know it, making room for bigger and better things.


Methodology: This survey was conducted online within the United States from September 17-19, 2014 among 2,018 adults ages 18 and older, among whom 1,973 own smartphone/tablet/PC, by Harris Poll on behalf of Intel via its Quick Query omnibus product. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Lindsey Pappas, North of Nine Communications at (415) 258-4801.

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