Big Data as Big Brother? How Customer Tracking Affects Privacy, Democracy, and Cultural Integrity​

Overview

For the past five years, collecting, trading, and utilizing "big data" has become a commonplace practice in the business world. In the "wild west" of the digital world, companies scramble to lay hands on consumer data in a time and place where laws and regulations have not fully come into place. Managers are often preoccupied with technical questions about how to process such big data, but less frequently ask questions about how the data is acquired in the first place, how its aggressive implementation may interfere with consumer lives, and the associated problems of privacy, democracy, and cultural integrity.

This short presentation will provide an important perspective for leaders to consider when thinking about how to apply big data to effectively create business value in the long term. Key aspects include:

  • Respect—not for numbers, but for humans. In the Age of Information, we need to beware of the limits of data in representing human experiences. We need to treat customers as subjects, not statistics, by allowing them the space and time to reflect on their desires and provide the data they want to give.
  • Ethics and lawsEnsuring that the process of customer data collection, trading, and legitimization are done ethically and legally. This includes privacy policies that are simple, clear, and user-friendly, and adhere to the laws and regulations issued by local and federal governments.

  • Critical thinkingDeveloping a critical attitude toward technology, including its potential and limitations.

As Babson's signature mantra SEERS (Social, Economic, Environmental Responsibility and Sustainability) teaches us, businesses will truly thrive when they build their successes on the genuine prosperities of those around them.

About the Presenter

Professor Xinghua Li is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the History and Society Division at Babson College. Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Dr. Li studies the global spread of consumer capitalism through the perspectives of psychoanalysis, ecocriticism, and critical media theory. Her book Environmental Advertising in China and the USA: Structures of Desire is forthcoming with Routledge in February 2016. She has also published in journals of Media, Culture and Society, Environmental Communication, the anthology Reading Brokeback Mountain, and for three years, she authored the "Looking Abroad" Column for The 21st Century, an English-language weekly in Beijing.  Dr. Li teaches courses including Media Studies, Media, Culture, and the Environment, and Arts and Humanities Foundation. ​