The rise of the digital economy has changed the landscape across many industries, throwing disruptive innovations left and right. It allows startup companies like Uber to explode into a worldwide phenomenon in a matter of years instead of decades, and these companies have better access than ever before to real-time measurements of their success.

A new and crucial anomaly has introduced itself into the system: Big Data. What is it and what are its effects on the digital economy? Does it really have anything to do with simple accessories like iPhone cases? As smartphones are increasingly becoming a tool for big data, the answer to that is, yes.

Big Data: the basics

There is much confusion about what exactly big data is, but the definition many experts fall back to is that big data is a collection of data from both traditional and digital sources that represent a source for ongoing growth and analysis. Big data is an oddity because it collects both data from the internet and computer code, but also from more non-digital, traditional sources such as financial records, transaction information, and interaction channels like call centers and points of sale. Big data typically comes in two forms.

There’s unstructured data, which is data that derives from disorganized information, which is difficult to interpret by more traditional data models. Examples of unstructured data include Twitter feeds and metadata.

The other form of big data is multi-structured data. This is in reference to a variety of data types, mostly deriving from interactions between users and machines, like social networks or web applications. A good example of multi-structured data would be weblog data.

Big Data: the effect

With all of that out of the way, the question still remains: what effect does big data actually have on the digital economy? The answer is simple but enormous in its impact. Big data, if handled correctly, can turn everything we know as the digital economy on its head.

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In many ways, this has already been set into motion. Big data can be used to track customer behavior on a level never before thought of. The reason the taxi industry was being run out of town by Uber, at least until its recent terrible press drove away many customers and employees, is that, while taxi companies developed apps, they simply weren’t enough. They ran on what’s known as “legacy” systems (contact centers, radio etc.) which were not only less effective and practical to the consumer as compared to Uber’s point and click system, they also made the app more expensive to maintain for the company.

But what truly makes Uber the top dog, as it were, in public transportation apps right now is that they have a firmer grip on managing big data than anyone else on market. While Uber, and anyone else who has this distinction, doesn’t fully understand big data (no one really does right now, hence all the confusion over what it actually is) the fact remains that they can track their customer’s behavior at a speed that their competition cannot keep up with, at least not right now.

Using data to track consumer behavior is known as “getting data to talk”, and big data, with further research as to the full capabilities of it, could possibly get data to say more than it ever has before. However, it all depends on the data itself, “good data” if you would. This is data linked to other data, like social networks or personal information. Analyzing large swathes of information can help a company gain a deeper insight into their customer’s satisfaction. They can then hone their sales strategy accordingly.

Big data can even be used for real good in the world. Recently, big data analytics managed to calculate that 45.8 million people are still trapped in slavery to this day in over 160 countries. They then used that data to enable coordinated efforts and establish massive networks with the sole goal of stomping out human trafficking on a scale thought impossible before now.

Some people rightly love the idea of big data, seeing the potential good it can do for the human race, and the digital economy. Others equally as rightly fear big data because they see the potential great harm it can do when giving corporations such limitless ability to monitor and adapt to human behavior. Whatever your thoughts on it, it seems to not only be here to stay but is only going to be further understood and utilized as time goes on. Whichever way it goes, the digital economy is only going to be further turned on its head in the years to come.

Big data is also using tools such as our very own smartphones.  Retail stores can use software known as Euclid, or Euclid Zero to monitor the movements of people carrying smartphones in those stores.  This adds to the data that is already collected from things like register receipts, traffic on store websites, etc.  So, aside from us wanting to protect our smartphones with cases and screen protectors so that we can use them as we see fit, these smartphones that we call our own are also working to help stores collect more data about our shopping habits.

Apple is said to be releasing a new iPhone shortly.  The rumors are that it will either be called iPhone X or iPhone 8.  Manufacturers such as Apple also use big data to predict the preferences of their buyers as well as to predict the needs for accessories like chargers, apps,  iPhone X plus screen protectors, cases, Bluetooth accessories and more.

Whether you like it or not, all types of businesses seem to be collecting data, this is what big data is all about and it seems to be here to stay.