Big Data for Big Impact: World Telecommunication and Information Society Day

The "great potential of information and communication technology (ICT) [is] to accelerate human progress, bridge the digital divide and advance knowledge", according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. It is in this spirit that the 2017 World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) was planned.

Living in a constantly connected world means that our everyday interactions with digital and mobile technologies produce vast amounts of data. Particularly in the context where the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to boom in the upcoming years, it is unsurprising that big data has acquired a status as an extremely promising tool even ifs its potential has not yet been exploited fully.

What is "big data"? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one definition could be "extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions". In other words, thanks to very complex algorithms designed to decipher it, big data can potentially trace otherwise invisible patterns about human behaviour and consumption in the vast amounts of information flow that modern technology produces.

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day was created precisely with a view to raising awareness about technology's potential to trigger socio-economic and sustainable change and development. For this reason, this year's topic, "Big Data for Big Impact" highlights big data's ambivalent nature, by both analysing its potential to contribute to solving some of the greatest challenges of sustainable development set in the United Nation's 2030 strategy, while also warning against potential abuse.

For the time being, big data is still an under-exploited resource, particularly due to its sheer amount (constantly increasing as more smart devices are used) and inherent lack of structure. However, the more connected we become, the more vulnerable our personal data becomes. WTISD is therefore the ideal moment to also bring up the issue of governance and regulation of big data in order to avoid abuse into users' privacy and rights. While not ignoring the economic benefits of big data, the EU has also taken a pro-active approach to protecting privacy as IoT develops at a bewildering rate. It is believed, however, that if used correctly, big data can "provide smart solutions to address climate change, hunger, poverty and other global challenges. [Modern technologies] are key instruments for providing mobile health care and access to education, empowering women, improving efficiencies in industrial and agricultural production, and safeguarding the environment."  The potential usefulness of this technology and data will create countless opportunities as we slowly learn how to fine tune and exploit big data to humanity's benefit.

Initiatives organised under WTISD, on both national and regional levels, will not only take place on 17 May but will continue throughout the year in order to support the creation of ICT solutions and applications contributing to achieving the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs). Discover WTISD initiatives around the globe here.

In conclusion, WTISD is not only an excellent opportunity to highlight the immense positive potential of big data and interconnected devices for future sustainable development, but it is also a moment to raise awareness about the risks they present if decision makers, stakeholders and law makers do not address crucial issues related to privacy and consumer rights. One way of tackling and preventing the dangers lying ahead due to the expansion of IoT and big data is to raise a new generation of digitally literate citizens who have an empowered approach to technology and all it has to offer, while also protecting their privacy. The aim of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) project is to empower young people to make the most of modern technology while using it safely and responsibly. Related to the issues raised by WTISD, these two resources produced by the Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) explore the trend of IoT (in Estonian) and raise concerns about the commercialisation of children and the trend of smart toys. We equally invite you to explore our numerous multilingual online resources here, covering a whole range of online safety issues.

If you are interested in finding out more about IoT, check out this useful infographic from Postscapes discussing the potential of this technology in the future.

If you are concerned about the risks of big data from a personal data collection point of view, read this European Parliament Think Tank study on EU initiatives aimed to tap into the potential of a data-driven economy: "Big data and Smart Devices and their Impact on Privacy".

For a lighter approach to big data, also take a look at this comic book about IoT and its potential uses.

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