Luohan Academy

Understanding Big Data: Data Calculus In The Digital Era

As public awareness rises about big data and the profits companies can make by collecting it, government is coming under greater pressure than ever before to act – to protect users and to regulate fast enough, in particular, to keep up with technological change. This report, “Understanding Big Data: Data Calculus in the Digital Era”, seeks to temper some of the kneejerk reaction toward restriction by presenting a more clear-eyed view of the privacy- and competition-related issues making headlines.

“Understanding Big Data” makes use of troves of empirical evidence from China, revealing how upwards of a billion users on e-commerce company Alibaba’s platforms, are making actual choices around data-sharing. It also offers an examination of industry practices, including how enterprises are using technologies like secure multi-party computation (SMPC) and cryptography to anonymize the data-production process and protect users’ personal information.

At a time when “data privacy” rules the zeitgeist, this report brings forth some compelling counterfactuals. Turning off the recommendation algorithms to over 600,000 users of a popular e-commerce platform, for example, brought down overall transactions by 86 percent and resulted in only well-known brands getting featured. A comparison of the fraud loss rates on mobile-payments platforms (0.0005%) versus traditional bank credit and debit cards (0.02%) was a reminder that a world without freely flowing big data may now be grossly undesirable. Still, the authors are not so naïve as to suggest a laissez faire approach to governance – the report offers guiding principles for data governance that ensure everyone with a role in the creation of data adheres to the standards of integrity and ethics.

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