Whether we consider him a savior or a savantian saboteur, none of us can deny that Edward Snowden has changed how big data is perceived, and certainly, he has revealed to the international public what it means for regular citizens to unwittingly reveal more of themselves than they likely would have wanted to. Whether it was a conversation from a wife to her sister about a drug addiction or a conversation from an otherwise faithful husband to a high school sweetheart with no intentions of infidelity, the Snowden effect has had a lot of people on edge, and for good reason.
With his first revelation of mass information about how The NSA collects big data in a similar fashion to the way social media platforms and retailers and wholesalers collect big data, but for many, the collection of this data represents an ominous truth: it means Big Brother is privy to all our communications. From that text argument you had with your boyfriend to the discussion you had with your mom about your ultrasound results, and the chat you had with your pharmacist about refilling your Lexapro, Snowden told us it was all out in the open. These things are deeply personal, and collecting big data in this manner has set an ugly precedent. But is there a way to look at this in a positive light? Is there a silver lining? Most would say no, because nothing so far has proven (at least publicly) that any terrorist attacks have been prevented because of this hefty infringement on our right to privacy.
One thing that is happening in the aftermath of the now widely publicized NSA eavesdropping program is how consumers are taking a second look at how much of their personal data is swimming around the Internet. People, in many cases for the first time, are actually checking the settings on their Facebook accounts and setting them to private. The Twitterverse is seeing more and more people using the platform make their tweets private, and small to medium-sized business owners are checking the security of their servers and email software platforms to ensure higher levels of encryption. The tremors that have followed the Snowden mushroom cloud have had an affect across many online behaviors and have many consumers calling their cell phone carriers with slews of questions about their privacy.
On the other hand, those who have scarcely understood the value of big data collection and how it improves their overall business intelligence and marketing are seeing the Snowden event in a different light. While small business owners may be just as angry about privacy violations, they are beginning to see that big data is an enormously important tool for their success. According to Boston big data investor Christopher Lynch, the advent of big data and its implementation is the most important innovation since Web 2.0. Think of it like this: if the Internet is a loaf of bread, then big data is the bread slicer. That means being able to predict consumer behavior—among other things we can do with big data—is the best thing since sliced bread.
In effect, while Snowden blew the lid on the NSA’s nefarious deeds, he also blew the lid on big data, which outside of the world of monster corporations and the data analysts and scientists who evaluate it, was kind of an unknown. So what’s the silver lining? Yes, our privacy was breeched, and that’s not cool. But now more of us are aware that there’s a way we can harness a power similar to what the NSA used to make our businesses more successful.