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Even Oliver Stone Knows the Power of Big Data

Feature Article | September 14, 2016 by Angela Schuller

With nearly 3 dozen films he’s directed, produced or wrote the screenplay for, you’ve likely watched one of Oliver Stone’s movies. He’s a master of storytelling, with film credits on topics you learned about in your high school history class, but with storylines that unfold particular events in such a way it’s like the first time you’re hearing about them.

Last week, Stone’s newest film, Snowden, made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and focuses on another highly political, and equally polarizing topic: privacy and the power of big data and technology.

Snowden made its world premiere last week and focuses on privacy and the power of big data and technology

If you don’t remember reading any of the extensive coverage several years back on Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, let’s bring you up to speed. Back in 2013, Snowden leaked top-secret information to the Guardian that exposed what NSA global surveillance programs were actually seeing, and how it changed the concept of privacy around the world.

There’s no doubt about it, digitization is a part of our culture. Big data opens the floodgates of what’s possible in every facet of our lives, in what we have come to expect as consumers, from government to healthcare. Consider the latter. CancerLinQ and Stanford School of Medicine are doing some amazing things to help promote better healthcare outcomes for consumers. In an interview with Jon Reed, Diginomica, both organizations “bring into focus a new era of medicine, where unified data sets and database breakthroughs change approaches to fighting disease – and personalizing treatment”. The possibilities of scaling big data across patient populations (in the case of CancerLinQ), or analyzing the human genome (at Stanford), are becoming the new norms in healthcare. For patients, analytics could potentially save lives. Big data in this case means patients get “(f)eedback like they’ve never had before,” according to CancerLinQ CEO, Kevin Fitzpatrick.

Feedback goes both ways, even if we don’t give our express permission to anyone who might access the data we generate every day. According Rick Smalen, executive producer of the film (and author of the book) entitled The Human Face of Big Data, we’re all “human sensors” as mobile technology users. The conversations we have, the information we seek on Google, the social networks we access – we’re all “players” in big data. In a CBS This Morning news clip from earlier this year, Smalen talks about the good and the bad of big data. “You don’t get one side without the other. When there’s a new tool, it can be used for good or evil,” he explained. “What we are trying to do with this documentary is start this global conversation about who owns our data, what are they doing with it. Should we opt-in not opt-out?”

So are folks in or out when it comes to personal data? Many of us are cognizant of the fact that there is a chance our digital footprint could be accessed, and we are trying to put some stops in place to protect ourselves. According to a Pew Research Center report on Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online, nearly 60% of respondents said they don’t believe it’s possible to be completely anonymous online. Nevertheless, the report reveals 86% of them are still taking steps to “mask their digital footprints” online. Couple that with the fact that the vast majority of us, at a minimum, are online and texting daily, the topic of big data and how its used is one we have to think about.

We’re cognizant there’s a chance our digital footprint could be accessed, and we are trying to protect ourselves

Stone is bringing the issue front and center with Snowden.

Snowden is one of six films SAP is sponsoring at TIFF under the theme of “Our Digital Future.” Get more details on the program or visit TIFF.net.

Top image via Shutterstock

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