The Big Data minefield

In the March-April issue of Euromedia (available first day of NAB, April 11), we examine Big Data and its role in making television better and, thereby, more profitable. What do we mean by better? In this context it seems we mean more targeted, better curated, totally focussed on a viewer’s needs, interests, desires…

Of course, what some call targeting others might say is a license for the incurious. Will the ultimate recommendation engine do for our own ability to discover new content horizons what sat navs have done for our ability to read maps? Does it matter? Discuss.

Then there is the question of what price audiences might pay in terms of their privacy and, indeed, whether they know they are paying that price? Three kinds of data vector to make the ideal engine of personalised media:

  1. Metadata – the description of the content in terms of basic genre, stars, length, etc and laced, if possible, with actual human description or even criticism. Though the quality is highly variable – much is produced in cheap as possible metadata factories – no controversy here, the more the better.
  2. Behavioural data – your device watching you and monitoring your consumption behaviour and learning from it. For those of us of a certain age this is a bit spooky. Our natural inclination is to ‘stay off the grid’ and we hate those ads that follow us around the Internet for weeks after we bought the damn thing they’re still trying to sell us. On the other hand we’ve learned that when you finally tick the ultimate spy box on the smart phone for location services, a whole world of accurate weather forecasts and navigation opens up. Treat my data with respect and deliver really useful stuff as result of having it and I’ll go along….
  3. Personal data – the stuff you know about me because I’m your service provider customer. As with all personal data use it – and even worse lose it or let anyone use it – at your peril. Abuse this data and we are so over. As many of our contributors made clear, with 2 & 3 the provider must be transparent with the subscriber: seek permission, reveal the exact use, don’t collect surreptitiously, don’t pass on, don’t keep it insecurely, do give the right to delete.

If you abuse data collection your company and, by association, the whole industry will suffer. You will create a Catch 22 that, as the security services have found out, has no easy exit. They claim the Snowden revelations have damaged intelligence data gathering. But because of Snowden we know they were lying about the extent of their intelligence data gathering. So how can we believe what they say about the damage to intelligence data gathering or the current extent of it?

Trust is a very valuable asset for a service provider, it is very hard won and very easily lost.

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