Big Boulder Initiative: What’s on the Social Data Ethics Agenda for 2015?

Big_Boulder_Ini-048Today, #snowpocalypse2015 permitting, the board of directors of the Big Boulder Initiative is meeting up in San Francisco to plan 2015 in more granular detail. As a member, I’m really proud of what we accomplished during the past year, but recognize that there is a lot of ground to cover. Here are some of the highlights of the past year, from a post last week from board director Chris Moody, VP Data Strategy at Twitter:

  1. We established the first independently operated and self-sustaining 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association dedicated to establishing the foundation for the long-term success of the social data industry.
  2. We formed a board of directors comprised of representatives from enterprise, startups and academia within the ecosystem, whose mission is to collectively address key challenges within the industry.
  3. We published a Code of Ethics and Standards in an effort to define a set of ethical values for the treatment of social data that will be used as a benchmark for companies and individuals associated with the social data industry around the world.
  4. Earlier this month, BBI hosted a half-day workshop in Boston, hosted by Fidelity Investments. The focus of the workshop was around the ethics of social data.
  5. We added three new board members:
    • Justin DeGraaf, Global Media Insights Director at The Coca-Cola Company
    • Mark Josephson, CEO of Bitly
    • Farida Vis, Director of the Visual Social Media Lab and Faculty Research Fellow at The University for Sheffield
  6. Finally, Brandwatch, IBM, NetBase and Twitter have joined the Big Boulder Initiative as founding members. In recognition of their efforts, BBI has added the following board observers to the board of directors:
    • Will McInnes, CMO of Brandwatch
    • Jason Breed, Partner/Global Lead, Social Business at IBM
    • Pernille Bruun-Jensen, CMO of NetBase
    • Randy Almond, Head of Data Marketing at Twitter

Over the next several weeks and months, we’ll be holding events (details to come!) and publishing more about our activities. In the meantime, if you’d like to hear about membership or you have any questions about the Big Boulder Initiative overall, please contact:

Bre Zigich
Big Boulder Initiative Board Secretary

Posted in Big Boulder Initiative, Big Data, Ethics, Gnip, Social Data, social data ethics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Research: What Do We Do with All This Big Data?

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 6.35.26 AM 1In September, I had the opportunity to speak at TED@IBM in San Francisco about the implications of a data-rich world, and what we can do, as businesspeople, citizens, and consumers, to use it to our best advantage.

Since then, I’ve had dozens of conversations–at conferences, in person, online and serendipitously–about the two main themes of the talk: how do we extract real insight from data, and how do we do so in a way that actually retains and builds trust?

These are huge questions, and they deserve serious and ongoing investigation. This will be the core of my research agenda this year. I’ll be speaking with technology users, business leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, ethicists, scholars and technologists to better understand how they see these challenges and what they can tell us about how to extract insight from complex data at scale. We’ll look at emerging technologies, changing organizational dynamics, research methodologies and decision-making. We’ll look at the criteria needed to deliver capabilities such as predictive analytics, and how they affect tool requirements, culture and organizational design.

And I’ll be breaking down discussions of “ethics”–so easy to push aside in favor of more “concrete” issues–into actionable themes that we, as an industry, must address. Where we get our data, how we extract and enrich it, how we mix it with other data, how we use it and how we communicate about what we’re doing–all are open to scrutiny. As part of this research, I’ll be looking at existing case law, speaking with the legal community and working with colleagues at The Big Boulder Initiative–a group of academics, brand representative and technologists–who are passionate about advancing the useful and ethical use of social data.

This document is just a first step toward setting context for the many disruptions of ubiquitous and complex data, but it includes preliminary frameworks to help us examine these issues in more detail, and recommendations on what steps to take to use data strategically and ethically in a business context.

I hope it acts as a catalyst for further discussion, and I’ll be building on and deepening these findings throughout the year.

Please weigh in with questions and feedback. I’ll link to substantive posts, as always.

Posted in Altimeter, Analytics, Big Boulder Initiative, Big Data, Data Science, Ethics, Innovation, Predictive Analytics, Research, Social Data, social data ethics, VoC | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Ethics: New Year’s Resolutions for 2015



In my last post, I discussed some themes for 2015, one of which was an imperative for us as an industry to get serious about digital ethics.

The year was filled with stories–some surprising, some alarming, some downright nuts–about the downstream consequences of decisions about how we deal with data. Consider the following:

  • Seeking to prevent suicides, “Samaritans Radar” raises privacy concerns. In October 2014, the BBC reported that the Samaritans had launched an app that would monitor words and phrases such as “hate myself” and “depressed” on Twitter, and would notify users if any of the people they follow appear to be suicidal. While the app was developed to help people reach out to those in need, privacy advocates expressed concern that the information could be used to target and profile individuals without their consent. According to a petition filed on, the Samaritans app was monitoring approximately 900,000 Twitter accounts as of late October. By November 7, the app was suspended based on public feedback.
  • Facebook’s “Emotional Contagion” experiment provokes outrage about its methodology. In June 2014, Facebook’s Adam Kramer published a study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science revealing that, in their words, “emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.” In other words, seeing negative stories on Facebook can make you sad. The experiment provoked outrage about the perceived lack of informed consent, the ethical repercussions of such a study, concern over appropriate peer review, privacy implications, and the precedent such a study might set for other research using digital data.
  • Uber knows when and where (possibly with whom) you’ve spent the night. In March 2012, Uber posted, and later deleted, a blog post entitled “Rides of Glory,” which revealed patterns, by city, of Uber rides after “brief overnight weekend stays,” also known as the passenger version of the “Walk of Shame.” Uber is later criticized for allegedly revealing its “God View” at an industry event, showing attendees the precise location of a particular journalist without his knowledge, while a December 1, 2014 post on Talking Points Memo disclosed the story of a job applicant who was allegedly shown individuals’ live travel information during an interview.
  • A teenager becomes an Internet celebrity—and a target—in one day. Alex Lee, a 16-year-old Target bagger, became a meme (@AlexFromTarget) and a celebrity within hours, based on a photo taken of him unawares at work. He was invited to appear on The Ellen Show, and was also reported to have received death threats on social media.

What these stories have in common is that they center on the way organizations collect, analyze, store, steward, aggregate and use data, both actively and passively, as well as how they communicate about their intentions and actions. I’ve had dozens of related conversations with folks in business and academia this year, including of course my fellow board members at the Big Boulder Initiative, on just how we develop an ethics for digital data, and one of the main themes and frustrations is just how amorphous it all is.

Earl Warren, former Chief Justice of the United States, once said, “In civilized life, law floats in a sea of ethics.” So my New Year’s resolution is to begin a process of filtering that sea so we can better understand its component elements. I’ll be starting that process in a document we’ll be publishing in the first quarter, and then in more detail in ongoing research on digital ethics. In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, safe and restful new year!

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.


Posted in Big Data, Data Science, Ethics, Real-Time Enterprise | Leave a comment

2015: The Year of Data Strategy

853716_90429188I’m not generally a fan of annual predictions; they always remind me of a carnival in which you’re encouraged to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”; you almost never win the giant teddy bear. So I apologize in advance if you were hoping to hear that your vacuum cleaner will soon become sentient, or that Google is planning to acquire Yosemite National Park and turn it into an incubator for middle-schoolers.

But I am thinking a lot these days about the impact of data: big, small, synchronous, asynchronous, structured and unstructured. I’m thinking about how we take signals from across the business, make sense of them and act upon them at scale.

I’m thinking about the challenges inherent in taking these vast rivers of human expression—what we affectionately call social networks—and analyzing them in a way that organizations can understand and from which they can extract value. And I’m thinking a lot about how we do this ethically, in a way that drives business value, builds relationships and honors both the implicit and explicit expectations of our customers, partners and audiences.

So, instead of predictions, here are the topics that I expect will be keeping us up at night in 2015. At Altimeter Group, we’re using a Watch-Plan-Act model to lay out what we think are the most important themes and priorities for the year. All of mine fit squarely into the “Plan” category for now, but, that said, it is extremely important  to monitor these trends very closely to see how public opinion, case law, and technology innovation are evolving.

Data strategy is business-critical

What should organizations focus on? Big Data, Internet of Things, Social Business, Digital Transformation, Mobile First, or a mix? Or should they just sit on the sidelines for now? In my opinion, the common thread of all these trends is data. We operate in organizations in which we no longer control the flow of information, and we’re frequently not first to know some of the most important things about our customers, our products, our brand. Siloes and incompatible technologies make things so much harder.

This is the year to sit down and really think through how we will approach data as a critical business asset.

Organize for insight

Say the word “data,” and thoughts go to IT, to analysts, to people whose job it is to process and/or analyze. With big data (and the Internet of Things), that horse has left the barn. We can no longer afford to make data the province of siloed teams who don’t talk to each other. Want to understand the customer journey? You’re looking at social, mobile, email, web, CRM, BI, market research, supply chain and soon sensor data, at a minimum.

Organizing for data intelligence should be a top priority in 2015. It will require an unprecedented level of collaboration between business and IT to ensure that business context makes its way into big data initiatives, that technical innovation inspires “the art of the possible” in business, and that it’s done rationally and at scale.

Digital ethics is a mandate

In 2014, we saw so many examples of what happens when gray areas collide: the Facebook “Emotional Contagion” experiment, recent Uber revelations, the Samaritan “Radar” app. The fact is, we have not yet as an industry truly clarified our position about who owns our digital data, how and when it can be used, what “informed consent” really looks like, what privacy means, and how as organizations we intend to keep our digital spaces safe.

I do anticipate an escalation of these issues next year, as “the law of unintended consequences” collides with our increasingly fluid use of data. In 2015, organizations should examine their risks related to digital ethics, whether it is:

  • how they act; specifically, where they get their data, their analytics methodology, and how they store, steward, aggregate and use the data
  • how they communicate disclosures related to the above
  • potential impacts to customer privacy, security and safety

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of charting a strategy for digital ethics now. 

That’s it for now. It’s going to be a tumultuous year, so let’s start it with a clear head: strategy, organization, ethics.

I look forward to discussing all of this with you throughout the remainder of 2014 and into 2015.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.


Posted in Altimeter, Analytics, Big Data, Data Science, Ethics, Innovation, Predictive Analytics, Quantified Self, Real-Time Enterprise, Social Data, social data ethics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

TED Talk: What do we do with all this big data?

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 8.16.21 AMOn September 23, 2014, I had the honor of presenting a talk on Big Data at TED@IBM at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco, California alongside an amazing group of people, including Altimeter’s own Charlene Li.

It was an incredible day; I walked away with so many new ideas and questions about data, society, technology, culture and where we’re headed. Today, the team at TED posted my talk on I am beyond honored and grateful, particularly to Juliet Blake and Anna Enerio at TED, and Michela Stribling and Jacqueline Saenz at IBM for coaching me through what I can only call a transformative experience.

This talk comes from my head and my heart, and I hope you enjoy it.



Posted in Altimeter, Analytics, Big Data, Ethics, Twitter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Data Everywhere: Lessons from Big Data in the TV Industry

1440150_38509981During the past several years, the television industry has changed dramatically, spurred by device proliferation, changing distribution methods, and the increasing popularity of social media.

Today, TV is everywhere. It’s on your phone, your tablet, your gaming console and someday will be on devices that are yet to be invented. It’s non-linear, time-shifted, multi-screen, and it’s creating new streams of digital data that were unimaginable even a few short years ago.

For this new research report: Data Everywhere: Lessons From Big Data in the Television Industry, Altimeter Group interviewed television brands, technology innovators and industry thought leaders to better understand industry drivers, new consumer behaviors and the data impacts of these shifts.

We looked at how TV is changing, and how new streams of data are transforming the business, from programming and distribution decisions to promotion and ratings:

  • Programming: ideation or validation of a programming decision;
  • Distribution: where to distribute content, whether it is syndicated entertainment or other types of owned media;
  • Promotion: How and where to identify influencers and develop, time, promote, and target content; and
  • Ratings and Performance Evaluation: New and augmented performance insight.

Fig1e3 (2)We identified emerging best practices from industry leaders, and lay out the data sources that inform their strategies, and incorporated examples from the media and music industries, as well as many from TV.

While TV is a unique industry in many ways, many of the lessons learned about the challenges and opportunities to extract insight and take action are universal:

  • The delicate balance of data and creativity in programming;
  • The role of data in ideating or validating product decisions;
  • The many and complex facets of content strategy;
  • How data can be used to acquire audiences, target ads, map influence and inform many other aspects of marketing strategy; and
  • How we gauge the performance of all of these strategies as they support business objectives.

As with all Altimeter Group research, Data Everywhere: Lessons From Big Data in the Television Industry is available at no cost under Creative Commons. Please feel free to read and share it, and please let us know your reactions, as well as how these lessons apply to your own organization.



Posted in Altimeter, Big Data, Data Science, Facebook, HBO, Netflix, Predictive Analytics, Real-Time Enterprise, Research, Social Analytics, Social Data, Social media, Television, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment