The potential uses for all this information are intriguing. Cities can regulate and improve traffic flows, monitor water resources, or manage a smart electricity grid, all with the information they need readily available in the moment. Such real-time big data can also be commanded to deal with global challenges, such as monitoring oceans and atmospheres for warnings of natural disasters. Carbon deposits in arctic ice, air pollution in urban areas, oil reserves–all these produce data worth analysing to help us deal with climate change and the environment.
Conversely, data are also easily manipulated. Parties with less-than-altruistic intentions can take advantage of data for their own ends. Even a company like Volkswagen can manipulate emissions data to deceive the market, while the extent to which social media and online advertisers use personal data is a matter of some controversy. From governments to marketing firms, data can be used just as much against us as for us. Regulation and policy will always be one step behind innovation when it comes to clever technology.
The OECD’s Chief Statistician, Martine Durand, has warned about the merits and considerations of big data in these pages, and an OECD global forum and ministerial meeting on the digital economy in June 2016 will be an opportunity to continue the discussion on these aspects of data and innovation, along with trust, openness and new skills in the technology sector.
OECD (2015), Data-Driven Innovation: Big Data for Growth and Well-Being, OECD Publishing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264229358-en
©OECD Observer No 305 January 2016