Big Data: The Revolution Is Digitized

  • Charles Seife
  • Nature
  • February 26, 2015


Neither Borgman nor Lohr truly grapples with the immensity of the big-data story. At its core, big data is not primarily a business or research revolution, but a social one. In the past decade, we have allowed machines to act as intermediaries in almost every aspect of our existence. When we communicate with friends, entertain ourselves, drive, exercise, go to the doctor, read a book—a computer transmitting data is there. We leave behind a vast cloud of bits and bytes.

Bruce Schneier, a security analyst known for designing the Blowfish block-cipher algorithm—a fast and flexible method of encrypting data—grasps this revolution’s true dimensions. In Data and Goliath, he describes how our relationships with government, corporations and each other are transformed by ordinary, once-ephemeral human interactions being stored in digital media. The seemingly meaningless, incidental bits of data that we shed are turning the concept of privacy into an archaism, despite half-hearted (and doomed) regulations to protect “personally identifiable information.” As science-fiction pioneer Isaac Asimov wrote some 30 years ago: “Things just seem secret because people don’t remember. If you can recall every remark, every comment, every stray word made to you or in your hearing and consider them all in combination, you find that everyone gives himself away in everything.”

Schneier paints a picture of the big-data revolution that is dark, but compelling; one in which the conveniences of our digitized world have devalued privacy. Interest in privacy has dropped by 50% over the past decade—at least according to Google Trends.

Categories: Book Reviews, Data and Goliath, Text

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.