Big data “here forever”, says EU official

Companies across all sectors of the economy may need to examine how big data analytics could help their operations, as the technology is set to become an essential part of the way in which business is conducted in the future.

This is according to EU official Robert Madelin, who recently told EurActiv that data analytics is now "here forever and in all sectors", and businesses and governments will have to act quickly to cope with an environment where data flows freely.

"Big data is going to come everywhere," he said, adding that it is currently very difficult to tell where it might be most effective. "We are at a time of such pervasive disruption and accelerated change thanks to digital, that anything might be the next big winner."

Mr Madelin, a senior adviser for innovation at the European Political Strategy Centre, said that getting data right is critical for success in the digital age. However, interested parties must work carefully to see the technology through its current 'transition phase', where concerns about issues such as privacy are commonplace.

While legislation such as the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have a big part to play in reassuring consumers their personal information is safe, Mr Madelin said that in his opinion, many of the current worries surrounding privacy are overstated, as the vast majority of data being collected at the moment is not personal.

"We shouldn't assume that all the instances of big data that matter will be business-to-consumer and therefore have a personal data component," he said. "We probably underestimate today the proportion of data available in a decade's time that will not be personal data; that will either be anonymised or be a-personal."

For example, he noted that currently, the largest amounts of data are being generated by projects such as the Large Hadron Collider and Nasa's New Horizons space probe, while for more everyday purposes, information gathered by sensors in locations such as buildings and road bridges are set to have large roles to play in the coming years.

However, in situations where personal data is being collected, it will be vital for businesses to gain the consent of their customers. In the EU, this information will fall under the GDPR, which is currently being negotiated by the institution and is expected to require consent to be given "effectively, explicitly [and] case-by-case".

Improved technology should be able to assist with at least some of these challenges, Mr Madelin continued. In the next few years, he forecast that consumers will increasingly be able to control their personal data 'brick by brick', in accordance with their preferences. This will allow legal principles of consent "to be fulfilled at ever lower cost and with ever greater control by the individual".