Why “Big” Does Not Necessarily Mean “Bad”  

Data is a term that has been in use since the 17th century, which at that time meant, “a fact given as the basis for calculation in mathematical problems.” (Data | Origin and Meaning of Data by Online Etymology Dictionary, 2021) Yet it was not until the early 21st century when the term “big data” was first introduced. (Foote, 2017) Big data seems to carry the same negative connotations as “big tech,” “big pharma” and “big government.” What differentiates big data from regular data is the “3V’s” (velocity, variety, and volume). (Kitchin, 2014, p. 1) In big data, the 3Vs are so extreme that standard statistical models become obsolete, and deep neural nets are often required to effectively analyze the data. (Alpaydin 104) To those unfamiliar with big data, it seems to represent more than just a multitude of factual information, it represents a further divide between those who seemingly have access to it, and those who do not. While in reality, big data is often used for improving the quality of life for everyday people, performing day to day activities. 

For example, an individual’s commute to work may have been made easier (and safer) by big data. By utilizing machine learning in conjunction with big data on most heavily congested roads in and around cities, we can make transportation more efficient. (Piletic, 2017) Big data in this scenario is acquired through IoT devices, car sensors, cameras and smart devices. (Piletic, 2017) The data collected is used for several important aspects of transportation, these being 1) city planning, 2) parking and congestion control, and 3) long commute times. (Piletic, 2017) 

Moreover, commuting is also made safer by the same combination of data and ML. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the United States for ages 1 – 54, and of the world for ages 5 – 29. (“Road Safety Facts,” 2021) While not all of these accidents can be prevented with data analytics, the numbers could be mitigated. ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) are made possible through big data originating specially designed DAS (Data Acquisition Systems) which analyze driving behavior, patterns and posture. (Antoniou et al., 2018, p. 327)Additionally, crashes and traffic flows are analyzed with loop detector data, and MVDS (Microwave Vehicle Detection Systems). This data is used to determine the likelihood of vehicle accidents with concern for a multitude of variables, like location, vehicle type, speed, and traffic flow. (Antoniou et al., 2018, p. 325) 

While the previous examples are ways in which big data is utilized for the benefit of society, there remains some scenarios where big data is used improperly or inefficiently. However, these examples should not detract from the benefits, and should be handled on a case by case basis. Facial recognition has fallen under scrutiny due to the disproportionate false positives based on skin pigmentation. (Noorden, 2020) Additionally, big data is also used for information operations in social media platforms to incite divisiveness. (Torabi Asr & Taboada, 2019) These are all issues which can be addressed separately, without stifling the societal benefits of big data.  


Alpaydin, E. (2004). Introduction to machine learning. MIT Press.

Antoniou, C., Dimitriou, L., & Pereira, F. (2018). Mobility patterns, big data and transport analytics: Tools and applications for modeling. Elsevier.

Data | origin and meaning of data by online etymology dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/data

Foote, K. D. (2017, December 14). A brief history of big data. DATAVERSITY. https://www.dataversity.net/brief-history-big-data/

Kitchin, R. (2014). Big Data, new epistemologies and paradigm shifts. Big Data & Society, 1(1), 205395171452848. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951714528481

Noorden, R. V. (2020). The ethical questions that haunt facial-recognition research. Nature, 587(7834), 354–358. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03187-3

Piletic, A. P. (2017, July 11). How IoT and big data are driving smart traffic management and smart cities. Big Data Made Simple. https://bigdata-madesimple.com/iot-big-data-driving-smart-traffic-management-smart-cities/

Road safety facts. (n.d.). Association for Safe International Road Travel. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/

Torabi Asr, F., & Taboada, M. (2019). Big Data and quality data for fake news and misinformation detection. Big Data & Society, 6(1), 205395171984331. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951719843310