Is Little Data The Little Engine that Could?


Posted by Bjorn Aannestad on 6/26/13 4:00 AM

littleengineBig Data is big news right now, and the hype would have you believe that Big Data will change the world. But will these changes benefit the ordinary consumer, or will the benefits go solely to the vendors driving adoption? With the media stories about NSA data mining and other negative publicity, is there any benefit to Big Data at all? Or, as some of the pundits fear, is this just a move toward the “Big Brother” society of Orwell’s 1984?

Less familiar, “Little Data” is a movement designed to empower users by letting them control their own data. Little Data is a hopeful, optimistic approach to how personal data can change the world. Instead of being constantly concerned about how vendors accumulate and use personal identity data, Little Data would give control and choice to the individual consumer and offers tangible value for data. When it comes to the ownership and control of identity data, is Little Data The Little Engine that Could? We can view the different approaches this way:

Little Data Big Data
Empowers the individual consumer Empowers the corporation
Permission-based Surveillance-based
Real user data Aggregated, anonymized data
Consumer owns data Companies own the data
Consumer controls data flow Company controls data usage

Little Data puts the control of data in the hands of users, letting consumers determine how (and if) they want to conduct business with a company. There’s that old saying “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If it does not come back, it was never meant to be.” For most marketers, the thought of letting this data source go is horrifying, because they firmly believe that if you give a consumer choice, they’ll choose to take their data and go. But Forrester and Ovum analysts have done research on this topic, and both have come to the same conclusion: Consumers will start cutting off access to their personal data if marketers do not start respecting them and giving them transparency, choice, and control over their data.

Europe is the latest battleground as the European Union admonishes Google to clean up its act on personal data, with consumers’ lack of transparency and control over their data the common theme. The Big Data approach of giving consumers little to no say about how their data is used is ultimately being interpreted as a violation of privacy and digital identity property rights.

So, is Little Data The Little Engine That Could? In the children’s story, the optimistic little engine overcomes obstacles, and the current market certainly is daunting – companies don’t want to give an inch when it comes to the data gold mine. But like the little train, the consumer will eventually succeed and be empowered. It may happen through free market means – as consumers vote with their wallet – or through regulatory means. The lesson of the story is that companies who invest in Little Data techniques (rather than making excuses like the other trains in that childhood tale) will benefit in a number of ways. A recent Compass Intelligence study outlines these benefits:

  • Deeper, more meaningful customer relationships
  • Higher-value data provided by consumers
  • Consumer appreciation for being given control
  • Positive brand visibility and increased consumer trust

The journey may be long and challenging, but the Little Data movement offers value to consumers and corporations alike – it just takes optimism and belief. Every company that implements Little Data techniques is saying “I think I can”, and that mentality will get us over the proverbial hill.

Topics: Big Data , Privacy and Preference Management