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“The data wars have begun” – Qlik on The Great Hack film and how we can win

James Fisher, SVP, Qlik


Qlik James Fisher shares his advice on how society can win the data wars.

Netflix’s The Great Hack has exposed the significant dearth in public understanding around the way that many companies and governments are using our data. Over the past decade, our ever-more connected lives have resulted in an explosion of data, but it is only in recent years that we’ve seen discussion around its use by corporate and governmental organizations brought into the public consciousness.

With concerns around organizations’ proper use of data mounting, we have to be careful that we don’t lapse into a climate of fear around data analysis. This would prevent the true value of data from being realised: whether that’s the development of new forms of medicine, or better and more connected urban experiences.

“The data wars have begun” (Brittany Kaiser) and this is a battle of minds for the future of data analytics. To safeguard a more connected, intelligent future we must win this war – and I believe there are three things needed to achieve it:

A New Digital Social Contract 

  • While we have the GDPR, which was brought into force by the EU, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s ‘Contract for the Web Project” (which was launched in late 2018 to define the role governments, companies and users should play in the use of the web and data), we must go further. We need a framework which we can all embrace to provide the trust society expects.

Data Literacy 

  • Just like an enlightened electorate is needed for democracy, a data-literate electorate is needed for the data age – this means having the ability to read, understand, question and communicate with data. With one-fifth of Brits and  one-third of Americans reporting that they are overwhelmed by political data, it is critical that we have the skills to decipher and challenge the narrative, enabling individuals to make informed, autonomous decisions about politics and anything that affects or impacts their lives.
  • Fake news and inaccurate online content has already inspired 24% of Brits and 17% of Americans to look more closely at how the data is being used to make sure they are getting the real facts. However, with just one-quarter of Brits and one-third of Americans reporting that they are confident in their data literacy skills – roughly the same as global literacy rates were 100 years ago – we can and must do better.

Robust, Open Platform

  • The final element would be creating a robust open platform that can manage and work with data, content and people in a distributed, connected fashion that is transparent, ethical and authenticated.
  • This goal needn’t be a ‘pie in the sky idea’: the entire foundation of our digital society is based on creating value from the open sharing of data and insights. When we look back at the origins of the World Wide Web, British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee conceived and developed the Internet to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in institutions and universities around the world.
  • Today, we know that the value of connecting data extends to driving insights across every aspect of our lives. It holds the potential to positively impact our experiences at work, in wider society and in our personal lives. So, we must look at how we can build a new or develop existing platforms to ensure that the data exchange that powers such benefits isn’t exploited.
  • That said, we are still in relative infancy for data production, collection and analysis – the explosion in IoT devices as our cities and lives become more connected will create unprecedented volumes of data. And yet, the data and information (and misinformation) is already too much for us to handle – and so artificial intelligence (AI) will be critical to augment the ability of humans to ensure the platform upholds its values. This, in turn, introduces new issues – as we know there are biases in the way that humans create algorithms. But a healthy mistrust in AI and increased data literacy will enable a greater number of people to challenge its outputs, recognize potential biases and find ways to address them.
  • Ultimately, behind the idea of this new data and analytics system must be a commitment to responsible and ethical sourcing of data, empowered by transparency within the platform that enables us to be held to account for our collection of and use of data. Indeed, this will be critical to not just take advantage of the immense opportunity, but to preserve trust.

If we want to avoid stifling our ability to innovate and find new ways to create value from the data we have, it is clear that we must challenge the mistrust surrounding data analytics, educate people on how to understand and question the information they’re presented, and – as an industry – openly commit to a reasonable and ethical approach to data collection and use. This is the only way to ensure that we – as citizens, employees and consumers – can continue to reap the benefits of a data-driven society.