Introduction Big data is all the rage. Its proponents tout the use of sophisticated analytics to mine large data sets for insight as the solution to many of our society’s problems.
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First, we want to suggest that the utopian rhetoric of big data is frequently overblown, and that a less wild-eyed and more pragmatic discussion of big data would be more helpful. It isn’t too much to ask sometimes for data-based decisions about data-based decisionmaking.
Second, we must recognize not just big data’s potential, but also some of the dangers that powerful big data analytics will unleash upon society. The utopian ideal of cyberspace needed to yield to human reality, especially when it revealed problems like identity theft, spam, and cyber-bullying. Regulation of the Internet’s excesses was (and is) necessary in order to gain the benefits of its substantial breakthroughs. Something similar must happen with big data, so that we can take advantage of the good things it can do, while avoiding as much of the bad as possible. The solution to this problem is beyond the scope of this short symposium essay, but we think the answer must lie in the development of a concept of “Big Data Ethics”—a social understanding of the times and contexts when big data analytics are appropriate, and of the times and contexts when they are not.