• COMMENTARY

    Urgent need for data deletion in big data era

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    [IN the age of big data, people are amazed by the huge amount of available information. However, the news of Gmail offering the “unsend” feature caught the authors’ attention and they realized that the downside of big data should not be neglected. The field of data deletion is necessary for the future usage of data.]

    18 years ago, I (Michael R. Czinkota) wrote fervently about the imperative of more data deletion in the Journal of International Business Studies: “The growing risk of information overload is likely to lead to the emergence of a new industry concentrated on the reduction of knowledge… Due to rising concerns in the information dissemination area, the role of privacy experts and mechanisms designed to withhold information will also be on the increase.”

    After six years, Google finally announced the option of “undo send” in its Gmail service. However, rumors of deletion capability are vastly exaggerated. Instead of actually “deleting” the email after sending it, the new “undo send” function just provides a time delay ranging from 5 to 30 seconds before sending out the email. Once the send button has been clicked, nothing can be “undone” after that time delay. Even now, if you accidentally send sensitive bank information to a total stranger, you still have to get a court order before Google can unsend an email full of sensitive data that mistakenly arrived in the inbox of a wrong person.

    We don’t have the slightest doubt that big data technology has played an irreplaceable role in letting economies boom. Google, for example, has collected data from Google maps in mobile phones to report accurate instant traffic information. IBM’s Watson Supercomputer collects all medical journals and clinical cases and makes them available to doctors.

    After Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, many people prefer a delay to a delete function in order to maintain accurate records. But for privacy’s sake, deletion may be essential. It can take a long time for laws to catch up with modern crimes.

    Too much data can also disable people’s decision making capacity. Dr. Ron Friedman, a social psychologist on the science of workplace excellence conducted research on how more information influences people’s decision making. We used to think that more information leads to smarter decisions. However, when data are missing, we tend to overestimate its value.

    Increasingly, we can build our understanding based on data derived from applications. We will be able to compare the use of air-conditioning in Shanghai to that in Berlin. A Smart Factory can offer solutions and services to consumers in different and changing conditions. Key obstacles are the reality of messy information and the problem of getting rid of useless data.

    About the authors:
    Professor Czinkota teaches International Business and Trade at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is a board member of the Hungarian American Institute.

    Mengqin Cao is an M.A. candidate in Communication, Culture & Technology in Georgetown University.

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