On Recent Public Surveillance Controversies and the Unique Character of Big Data
Until the recently publicized controversies over public surveillance operations in the United States, the real inescapable quality of Big Data eluded us. Until now, we had a hard time differentiating this new computing trend from earlier approaches to data management on a large scale. Massive databases are nothing new. U.S. Government agencies have maintained huge databases of information for years, as have their peers around the world. Very large businesses in the private sector have also maintained enormous data repositories of information. So what’s the big deal about Big Data?
From the controversies receiving a lot of attention from the press in early June, 2013, the real unique quality of Big Data have become clearer to us. The key was a recent article published on the CNN website Senate Intelligence Leaders Say Phone Surveillance is ‘Lawful’.
This article includes the following report: ” . . . [Senator Diane] Feinstein, D-California, said the government can only access the metadata, not the actual conversations that take place on the calls. After the information goes into a database, it can only be used if there is “reasonable and articulate suspicion that the records are relevant and related to terrorist activity.” So Big Data works with metadata tagging, terms and taxonomy characteristic of a large Content Management System (CMS) (for example, Microsoft® SharePoint®).
The CNN article unfortunately does not include a definition of metadata tagging for the general public. Neither is a definition included in an article on the same topic published in the Wall Street Journal (though the Journal article couples the term with the adjective “so-called”). Only the New York Times, in an article published on June 5, 2013, written by Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt, U.S. Is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls includes a definition: “The collection of communications logs — or calling ‘metadata’ . . .”
But we disagree with the Times’ definition. In fact “metadata” amounts to information included on webpages within special tags, which are, in turn, used to present specific pieces of information (perhaps the content of a communication log, meaning telephone numbers, rather than a transcription of the conversation) for quick sorting (indexing) by webpage search tools. Bottom line, an unexpected benefit of the controversy in the U.S. in early June, 2013 over public surveillance by government agencies is promotion of one of the methods of Big Data, specifically the metadata tagging, terms and related taxonomic activity required to manage unstructured information found on webpages.
If your business can use a clearer communications method, please let us know. We spend a lot of time looking at how products, concepts and related components of computing are presented to markets and even the public. Please contact us to learn more.
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