Global effect of big data

E_p5_big_data_1It’s starting to show us a lot of things but it’s also starting to not show us a lot of things in terms of these types of algorithms, so it’s a new thing and what it’s going to turn into we don’t know,” says Peter Chow-White, associate professor, SFU School of Communication.

SFU’s Spring President’s Day Colloquium aims to spark debate with a speaker series on Big Data, which began on Jan. 5 and runs until March 22. The speaker series, which takes place in the Burnaby SFU campus, is an interdisciplinary debate defining what big data is and what implications it has on everyday life.

“Big data trends the use of algorithms to search and scrape data from the internet. The use of telephones and other types of surveillance tactics on the web these days have been developing for quite some time but are not well known specifically to consumers,” says Catherine Murray, a professor at the SFU School of Communication.

Everybody should know about big data

Peter Chow-White, associate professor, SFU School of Communication. | Photo courtesy of SFU

Peter Chow-White, associate professor, SFU School of Communication. | Photo courtesy of SFU

According to Murray, growth velocity is intensifying big data and is relevant to people today.

“I think that the pivotal point was the release of the Edward Snowden papers in 2013, when we realized the scope of what is done and conducted by the five major countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and France. ”

Murray adds that, because of these revelations, we are now starting to see the massive control over our personal information that companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter actually have.

“They’re monetizing our personal information at a level and rapidity that is just growing quicker every year,” she says.

Although the benefits of big data collection are expansive, from its use in the medical field to mine data from DNA to create tailor-made healthcare, to businesses worldwide using it to optimize their social-marketing campaigns, only now is the subject being scrutinized by larger entities, the most recent being the European Union.

One of the original creators of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, is amoung those raising concerns about Big Data and privacy.

“There was a really interesting article in the Economist by Tim Berners-Lee, who actually was very remorseful about the history the Internet has taken; how its being commercialized and colonized, how it is essentially abusing personal information,” says Murray. “He argues for a massive global shift in big data governance and we’re solidly in support of that.”

The rate at which big data is developing is profoundly challenging to monitor as the advancement of technology is an ever changing and ever expanding entity. The laws put in place are struggling to keep up and have little standing.

“Especially in a Canadian context for policymakers, the laws that govern our privacy were made 20-some odd years ago and they weren’t made in a time of big data,” says

General public invited

The comprehensible colloquium covers a number of subjects, from Visual Analytics to Disruptive Technologies, culminating in the presentation of students’ final projects on April 5. The complementary presentations are open to bookings and all presentations will be posted online after the event takes place. The general public is invited to participate.

“They [the speaker series] are all targeted at the general public. We have a team of brilliant students who are working on distilling this subject into ordinary language and breaking it down into units. We’re trying to make it a publicly accessible resource,” says Murray.

For more information, please visit