Big Data And The German Dilemma

Reflections from the 10th Safer Internet Day Conference in Berlin, February 5th 2013

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Safer Internet Day Conference in Berlin, organized by the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture and BITKOM, the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunication and New Media. The conference title, ‘Big Data – Gold Mine or Dynamite?’ set the scene; after my little introductory speech on what big data really means and why this is a relevant topic for all of us (industry, consumers, and government), the follow-up presentations pretty much focused either on the ‘gold mine’ or the ‘dynamite’ aspect. To come straight to the point: I was very surprised, if not slightly shocked at how deep a gap became visible between the industry on the one side and the government (mainly the data protection authorities) on the other side.

While industry representatives, spearheaded by the BITKOM president Prof. Dieter Kempf and speakers from IBM, IMS Health, SAS, and others, highlighted interesting showcases and future opportunities for big data, Peter Schaar, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, seemed to be on a crusade to protect ‘innocent citizens’ from the ‘baddies’ in the industry.

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