It's benefits are widely known - it is a huge boon for central planning, allowing things like same-day delivery from Amazon warehouses. It is a huge boost to marketer reach. It is a multi billion dollar industry and, by all measures, here to stay.
What of its drawbacks?
There is the potential for corporate abuse.
- 1) A notable case more than a decade ago, from Target, where a review of a user's shopping cart allowed them to determine that the user, a teenage girl, was pregnant, and "out" her to her parents by sending maternity catalogues and coupons to her home address. The mixing of corporate marketing with potentially abusive home situations is dangerous, and could lead to harm.
2) Expanding on the above, while Amazon's Whole Foods is pricey and does not compete for bargain shoppers where supermarkets like Safeway or others reign, it is entirely possible for Amazon to, in much the same way as Target above, to do so. Using Amazon purchase histories and web usage to create a profile of impoverished shoppers in a geographical region, a profile tied to their physical address which can then be used to send coupons to make Whole Foods more competitive, sounds innocuous enough. It can be abused, however, driving low-cost competitors from the market before making the deals less and less competitive.
3) Companies often don't care what buyers do with their big data analysis. A notable example is Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which used Facebook's big data profiles and marketing options to target advertising during the 2016 election - a contributing factor in Trump's ascension to office. Even if we don't consider this in itself to be a bad thing, the same targeted advertising and social brainwashing could be used to favor candidates that are more destructive, negative, or dangerous. The intersection of corporate and political interests is a nice segue to our next two abuses of big data...
...in government. As long as these tools are legal, there will be a financial incentive to create and refine them. As long as these tools exist and are used in the market, governments will want to use them too.
If Minority Report were remade today, I'd do away with the weird ladies in the water and make pre-crime determined by big data analytics. And why not? It's not even science fiction at this point.
4) Police Departments in Missouri and Florida are using big data analytics to combat teen, drug, and gang crime. Associating with known criminals, issues with truancy, poverty, welfare status, and more are all combined to create a profile of an individual - and individuals can be targeted (harassed) regardless of their actual crimes for what their profile says about them. These programs are becoming more and more common - if racial profiling is small data policing, the increase of big data policing is problematic for the same reasons.
5) The most notable abuse of big data analytics comes from China's human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which some categorize as a genocide. In a vacuum, the idea of sending an ISIS militant or radical Muslim extremist to a school to be de radicalized and taught job training skills and language skills so they're not economically marginalized is a humane one - more humane than a bullet to the head.
China's abuse, and the inhumanity of its system, occurs in its well documented use of big data analytics. You're an Uyghur? Uyghurs are more likely to be Islamic extremists so strike one. You recently quit drinking? That's an extremist thing. You're growing out your beard? You fast for Ramadan? Applied for a passport to go to training camps abroad? You attend the same mosque as other "extremists"? Eventually you accumulate enough points in your big data profile that the state thinks you are more likely than not an Islamic extremist so it's time to send you to re-education. No due process. No appeal. The data says X so you're X. It is impossible to know a person's mind, of course, but behavior has patterns and behavior is indicative of a mindset: or so the reasoning goes.
The question becomes, then: is the use of big data worth it? Or would humanity be better off banning it entirely?