to serve man

Big data — and its curious link to cannibals — has been on my mind for a while now. It came up nearly two years ago after I read a Pew Internet/Elon University survey on the state of big data, which somehow got me thinking about a Twilight Zone episode called "To Serve Man."

In my arguably twisted, clearly fertile imagination, cannibalism became a metaphor for big data. How? Well, just think of big data as a synonym for the Kanamits, a race of nine-foot-tall aliens who randomly land on Earth and start promoting the fact that their only intention is to help humanity.

Their advanced technologies quickly eradicate many of the planet's oldest problems, from hunger to the high cost of energy. It makes life better, or so it seems -- resolving questions, increasing convenience and transforming barren deserts into big, blooming fields.

Remind you of anything, big data aficionados? It should, especially if you are attending the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week.

A Matter of Trust

Anyway, let me get to the point about those cannibals. Everyone trusts the Kanamits because the leader carries a book called To Serve Man. But in the end, after hundreds of humans have willingly boarded a spaceship to return to the Kanamits' home planet, someone realizes the book is not what it seems.

It's really a cookbook, full of recipes about serving man -- on a plate.

So here is my question. Does big data have the potential to serve man or will it simply serve man up on a metaphorical plate to government agencies, marketers and various other data collectors?

While that 2012 Pew Internet/Elon University study showed a fair amount of support for big data, it also contained a healthy dose of skepticism about its collection, use and value. And just yesterday, on day one of the MWC, the same issues repeatedly took center stage.

As analysts from Ovum Ltd., a London-based consultancy that specializes in global coverage of IT and telecommunications, noted, big data is creating an undercurrent of mistrust. A lot of people — and not just those skittish enough to link it with cannibals — are uneasy about its breadth, depth and potential to invade nearly every part of their lives. 

What's the Real Deal?

This year at MWC, many organizations are promoting strategies designed to enhance trust of big data. In short, Ovum analysts said, if telecommunications firms want to successfully monetize subscriber's big data, then they need to prove their sincere desire to serve them by earning greater trust.

Ovum calls this Big Trust.

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How important is it? Very, principal analyst Mark Little told CMSWire today.

No company can maximize the value of its customers' big data without earning their “Big Trust," he explained.