Big Data and Privacy: 2024 Complete Guide

Justice Ekaeze  - Tech Expert
Last updated: May 11, 2024
Read time: 16 minutes

This article discusses the relation between big data and privacy and how big data effects your privacy.


Big data is all the rage now, from social media firms to courier services to online shopping brands. These companies all consume an unhealthy amount of user data on a second-to-second basis, data that they will, in turn, use to tailor their services and ads about other services for the users. However, you become essentially laid bare, and all your sensitive data is out for all to see, not just the big companies.

We recommend users take the following preventive measures:

  • Stay anonymous using a VPN.
  • Create secure passwords using password managers.
  • Take charge of your privacy via the GDPR.
  • Utilise browsers with pro-privacy extensions.
  • Frequently clear your cache and delete your browsing history and cookies.
  • Log out of websites when you’re done using them.
  • Delete accounts that are no longer in use and try to avoid big data companies.


Big data and privacy are two major players in the online world that often compete against each other. Big data means massive stockpiling and analysis of people’s personal information. It helps for the betterment of society, such as improved personal services and healthcare. On the other hand, that level of data collection and analysis alarms around possible misuse.

This article explores how big data and personal privacy connect – for better and worse. We’ll discuss the handy perks big data gives companies, like fine-tuning their offerings for you. But we’ll also address the risky side – like breaches spilling your data onto shady entities.

What is big data?

What do we mean when we talk about “big data?” We’re referring to giant stockpiles of personal information gradually gathered by various means. Take Google; it can soak up data about you through your search questions.

Big data keeps ballooning as mega companies serve expanding user bases. As a result, big shots like Google, Facebook, and even government agencies collect tons of private details to function fully.

Facebook meta data privacy issues

So why hog all this user data anyway? Companies and organizations claim they need to absorb more and more to deliver on offerings completely. The thinking goes to understand users through their data better and can improve and customize the experience.

Of course, many consumers likely feel uncomfortable with their personal details being harvested behind the scenes. It positions big data squarely between boosting services and infringing on privacy.

Consequently, these methods provide some interesting discoveries. For example, big data is frequently used in large-scale market research, including user interaction with ads, websites, and software. Essentially, big data helps these companies track their user behavior more efficiently.

For a dataset to be referred to as big data, it has to meet three major criteria. These criteria are often known as the three Vs., they are namely:

  • Velocity: It refers to the speed with which the data in said dataset is collected. This data is also accessible in real-time (during its collection).
  • Volume: A dataset with a large data collection, which is the product of continuous observation over a sustained period.
  • Variety: Complex data sets usually consist of a variety of information. The data included in datasets can be combined to fill in any deficiencies, ensuring the datasets are complete.

Big data has characteristics other than those of the big three. The first example is that big data analytics is excellent for machine learning, meaning big data can teach machines and computers specific patterns and tasks.

Lastly, big data also indicates a user’s digital fingerprints. This means it is a function of users’ daily online activities. This also explains why it can be used to track user behavior.

Types of big data


Big data exists in many forms, which depend on the mode with which the constituent data was collected. Classifying big data this way helps us better understand the data based on its properties and behavior.

Based on this classification, big data is in three major forms:

  • Unstructured big data
  • Semi-structured big data
  • Structured big data

Unstructured big data

Unstructured big data, as the name suggests, is data without organization. It is data that is lacking in logical presentation, which would make no sense to the average person. Unstructured big data lacks any structure and is difficult to evaluate or analyze.

Semi-structured big data

Semi-structured big data is a type of big data with some characteristics of unstructured data mixed in with structured data. The representation and nature of this big data type are not arbitrary.

Structured big data

Structured big data is, as the name suggests, structured. And because it is structured, it can be easily presented in a very readable and logical way. Structured big data is also quite easier to understand and much more accessible.

An example of structured big data is a company’s list of customers’ addresses, contacts, and names arranged in a simple table or chart.

Classification based on the source of big data

Another way we can distinguish between big data types is by considering their sources. By this, we mean to consider who or what generated the data. When you take note of this, big data will get split further into three classes based on their sources:

  • Process registration: Here, we consider what big data traditionally is, which includes the kind of data collected and analyzed by big firms to improve specific processes that aid in running a business. 
  • People: This type of data is generated by people in their daily activities. Examples would be videos, pictures, books, and other identifiable data on social media. 
  • Machines: Machine-sourced big data is the type that comes from the sensors placed in machines. And you can find this data type more readily as machine usage grows.

What is big data used for?

Big Data and Privacy

Big data can be used in many different ways by different industries. Many firms can collect data directly, while some can only acquire huge datasets by purchasing them from independent brokers.

Below are some examples of how different industries use big data:

How social media companies use big data

Social media companies collect user data, analyze it, and use it to ascertain specific content on your timeline. The content is often tailored to fit your interests and not against your wishes. Here, the app leverages big data to keep you glued to your screen longer, allowing more time to serve up related ads.

How E-commerce companies use big data

Amazon tracks your searches and purchases, scooping up insights on you. In doing so, they can recommend similar products and services based on your usual purchases. Users get to buy more, ensuring increased satisfaction while the company makes more money, which is a win-win.

This data gathering is not limited to the Amazon website or app; E-commerce companies can track your activities across other platforms. After they gather all this information, they can create a user profile with which they can tailor ads and other relevant recommendations to the respective users.

How transport companies use big data

Public transport firms also utilize big data uniquely, but still to better serve their users. These companies will gather data on routes to know which ones are busy, require more buses or trains, and have normal traffic.

How courier companies use big data

Courier companies utilize special software designed by big data companies that aid their drivers with navigation. For example, the software can help the drivers steer clear of left-hand turns, which incur more cost than right turns.

It will interest you to know that this software has saved the courier company millions of liters of fuel, all because of the inclusion of big data.

How DNA testing companies use Big Data

DNA testing companies are another beneficiary of the wonders of big data. With the big data, they can “uncover your ethnic origins and find new relatives” using a routine DNA test

The process includes a lot of collection and analysis of big data. With this kind of service, the companies can only track user lineage with their full consent. They are also not to share the information with anyone. Still, the client and, as such, must be encrypted and secure except as requested.

Big data and privacy

Online safety tips

By now, you should have at least some understanding of how big data works and the risks it poses to privacy. But we have not given as much context to the privacy risks; keep reading as we dive into big data and some of the privacy concerns:

Large-scale data collection

Many companies rely heavily on their advertising algorithms to stay afloat and make as much profit as possible. To utilize the algorithm effectively, the companies need to generate a very accurate and detailed profile of the users.

The profile will often include the user’s likes and interests, which leaves nothing private for the user. And it’s not just the companies who use this model; government agencies also employ this algorithm to extract sensitive and specific data from citizens, especially those they consider suspicious.

This translates to a large repository of sensitive and specific data for cyber criminals to access if mismanagement occurs. The outcomes are numerous, but you can prioritize identity theft.

With this much data collection and advanced tools with which to do so, the companies can likely create a very accurate depiction of you. With this information, they can track your real-life hobbies, friends, where you live, and where your friends live, among other disconcerting possibilities.

Laws on privacy

As briefly cited earlier, privacy laws and regulations cannot guarantee user privacy. These laws are not universal, meaning that in some places, there are looser holds on privacy than in others.

Places like Europe have a relatively strict consumer privacy regulation called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law applies to all EU member states, but the details differ from country to country.

However, privacy laws differ from state to state. A company operating in the US will not adhere to the EU’s privacy laws. This means users in the EU may have to give up more than the usual amount of private data as the EU’s regulations allow.

Thus, there is no global or generally consistent law governing user privacy, and therein lies the problem. Fortunately, individuals like Edward Snowdown and Chelsea Manning have contributed immensely to unearthing large-scale privacy infringements and raising awareness of the risks of big data. 

Unsurprisingly, most users do not rely on privacy laws to catch up with technology, and we don’t even blame them. If you can take action to protect your privacy by whatever means necessary as long as the means are legal.

Risks of big data


Big data has a lot of positive uses. If used correctly, big data offers much information that helps make many processes easier. But with so many pros, the presence of cons is no surprise. 

The collection of big data is not without its risks, and they are listed below:

Misuse of personal data

The technology put in place for the collection of personal data is rapidly expanding in complexity. The growing speed with which it is leaves the regulatory bodies lagging behind with the rules and regulations to keep the practice ethical.

Because the law cannot keep up, there are tons of grey areas and irregularities to be expected. One of the first aspects of human life that is big data collection is privacy, and the privacy concerns include what type of information can be collected, who the information is about, and who can access this information.

The risk here is that some of the data collected can include your sensitive data, which represents a high risk of hackers getting their hands on it. Misuse of personal data can happen when sensitive data falls into the hands of anyone with malicious intent. The chances that sensitive personal information is included when collecting all this data are high.

Gathering irrelevant data

The trend of big data is continuously increasing in popularity, so much so that some companies simply collect the data for collection’s sake with no intention of analyzing or utilizing it. The collection of data simply occurs because of the potential for competitive advantage.

And with so much unplanned and unchecked data collection, the risk of sensitive data getting mixed up in the pile is very high. This can lead to much irrelevant data being analyzed and causing warped decision-making.

Data breaches

As you use the internet constantly, there is an ever-present threat of data breaches. This means you can get your data stolen at any moment. What’s more, there has been an increase in the number of data breaches.

Data breaches can lead to the sale of sensitive data such as full names, addresses, passwords, and more on the dark web.

Data quality

As stated earlier, the collection of data must adhere to better standards. The results will be skewed if the wrong data is mixed and analyzed as part of one big dataset.

Incorrect data analysis and skewed results can be devastating and lead to ineffective measures being implemented.

Collecting and storing big data with bad intentions

Just as big data involves collecting data to serve the users better through tailored ads and product placements, big data opens the door to so much good and evil.

For example, what if the corporations that collect the data do so not only to serve you better but also to manipulate your needs and purchases? You can’t be sure, and with so little grasp on the intricacies of big data and privacy, users occasionally click “I agree” to agreements they barely understand.

How to keep your data private

Send anonymous email

Big datasets pose a lot of risk to your security and privacy. Malicious individuals and companies alike can get their hands on your sensitive data, and who knows what can happen? You don’t need to think about that; we have some surefire ways to keep your privacy intact.

These four ways to keep your data private are aimed at reducing the amount of private data you put out into the internet:

1. Use a premium VPN

A VPN (virtual private network) will obscure your real location by switching out your IP address with one it generated itself. When it does this, you are essentially anonymous and untraceable. Your ISP, government agencies, and even hackers will be unable to detect your presence on the web.

After long hours of testing, we came up with three top VPNs that we can recommend for their excellent service and assured privacy and security:

1. NordVPN

NordVPN for Streaming

It is one of the most secure VPN services that ensure maximum security and privacy while doing any task online.

servers Over 5,000 secure and fast VPN servers available in more than 60 countries worldwide
Ad Blocker feature Owns reliable threat protection (malware, tracking, and ad blocker)
encryption Implies industry standard, most secure encryption: AES-256
Kill switch An effective and easy-to-use kill switch feature
Split tunneling feature Split tunneling feature with high functionality
MultiHop mode Offers multi-hop VPN for double encryption
tor compatible Provides seamless Onion over VPN functionality
Zero-logs policy Ensures that no logging is done
simultaneous connections Users can connect up to ten devices simultaneously with each account
money-back guarantee A 30-day full-refund guarantee with no questions asked
  • Adheres on a strict no-log policy
  • Keeps users’ data and personal information safe
  • Boasts double encryption mode
  • Windows app needs improvement

NordVPN is such a powerful cybersecurity tool. Armed with over 5,000 servers in more than 60 countries, this VPN can grant users full anonymity and easily get around censorship or geo-restrictions.


Thanks to its military-grade encryption, your online data is always secure from snoopers like companies who would abuse it for profit, especially hackers.

2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN new features block logo 120 by 120 now

Another efficient VPN service that provides users with top-notch privacy and security and a secure online experience.

servers A network of over 3,000 effective VPN server scattered in around 85+ countries
Trusted servers nord Has RAM-only servers
encryption Employs a rigid encryption standard; AES-256
Zero-logs policy Does not store users’ data
Split tunneling feature Offers a dedicated split tunneling feature to route specific traffic
network lock feature Has a reliable Network Lock (kill switch) feature to prevent data leakage
tor compatible Offers Onion over VPN servers
P2P optimized servers Allows Peer-to-Peer (P2P) sharing or torrenting
simultaneous connections Supports 8 devices to be connected concurrently
money-back guarantee Comes with a hassle-free 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Does not store or log users’ data
  • Robust protection against DNS/IP leaks
  • Has Tor over VPN servers
  • Pricing is out of budget

ExpressVPN is fully equipped with industry-leading security features and privacy protocols. With over 3,000 servers in over 100 countries, this VPN is perfect for bypassing geo-restrictions and delivering super-fast connections every time. Security and privacy are assured thanks to industry-leading data protection features backed by military-grade AES 256-bit encryption.

3. ExtremeVPN

ExtremeVPN VPN block logo

The most versatile VPN provider that helps users stay anonymous and protected online. The service boasts a strict no-logging policy.

servers Offers over 6,500 servers present across 78 countries worldwide
encryption Utilizes the up-to-date security protocols, including AES-256 encryption
P2P optimized servers Enables distributed file sharing through P2P connections
Zero-logs policy Doesn’t collect users’ data
Kill switch Includes a unique kill switch feature to block data leakage
Split tunneling feature Offers flexible data routing through split tunneling feature
tor compatible Boasts Tor over VPN servers for stealth protection
simultaneous connections Offers 10 simultaneous devices to be connection at one subscription
protection Provides protection against IP/DNS leaks
money-back guarantee Has a refund policy of 30 days
  • No logging is done
  • Based in privacy-friendly region
  • Blazing-fast servers
  • Limited plans

As the name suggests, while this VPN is listed last, it takes itself extremely seriously. A newcomer in the VPN industry but already blowing away the competition with its wealth of features, all dedicated to giving you a secure and private experience whenever you use the internet. It has military-grade encryption and a fast kill switch, offering excellent split-tunneling support.

2. Create more secure passwords

Passwords are important for account creation and protection; getting them wrong can spell disaster. We know it can be tough to remember passwords, especially those created to be super secure and complex. Still, we do not recommend switching those types out for less secure but easy-to-remember passwords.

People often opt for passwords they can easily remember, like birthdays or names. The hackers can easily crack these, especially if you have a good amount of your private data on the internet for them to use for their guessing approach.

We recommend, however, that you create secure and strong passwords and store them somewhere secure and not connected to the internet. You can use password managers, software designed to generate and store passwords securely.

3. Take back control of your private information

Thanks to privacy laws like the GDPR, you have the right to access, alter, and even delete any of your data in the possession of any big companies such as Facebook. This means that users can request a detailed report on the data held by any company, and you can ask for the data to be deleted as well.

It can all be a little tasking to get all this done yourself, but you don’t have to, thanks to many data removal services. These data removal services will reach out to the big data companies and request the removal of your data on your behalf. An Example of this is DeleteMe.

4. Use browser plug-ins

With the rise in privacy concerns, browsers now have their measures to keep user data private. One of these is plug-ins or “pro-privacy” extensions. These plug-ins include anti-trackers and ad blockers, which work together to ensure zero ads and zero snooping.

Other ways to keep your data private

The tips mentioned above are the major and most recommended ways to protect your privacy; if you wish to know more ways, they are listed below:

  • Delete accounts no longer in use and try to avoid big data companies.
  • Ensure to log out of platforms once you’re done using them.
  • Frequently clear your cache and delete your browsing history and cookies.

Suppose you adhere to these steps in addition to the ones above. In that case, it is a great start to ensuring your online privacy is always safeguarded. However, note that data is not collected solely online; you must be vigilant to avoid offline traps.


Big data’s shady side comes in three flavors: shoddy data quality, security breaches, and misuse of private info. Crappy data equals faulty analysis full of holes and blind spots. Breaches leak personal stuff out to malicious hands. Misuse makes companies seem shifty, like they don’t keep tight control or come clean on how they employ user data. Basically, this trio of risks casts big data as a potentially dodgy deal, trading off conveniences for consumers’ peace of mind. Companies need to earn back that trust through accountability around these problem areas.

Want to reduce companies snooping on your personal data? Three top ways to amplify privacy include:

1. Use a VPN.

2. Create secure passwords using a password manager.

3. Take control of your data.

Big data can have negative and positive effects on user privacy. For one, it can be used to better equip decision-makers on the right decisions, which is great. Consequently, collecting so much data can create concerns about abuse of said sensitive data, data security risks, and data security and overall quality.

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About the Author

Justice Ekaeze

Justice Ekaeze

Tech Expert
50 Posts

Justice Ekaeze is a freelance tech writer with experience working for specialized content agencies. Justice has acquired extensive content writing experience over the years. He’s handled several projects in diverse niches but loves the cybersecurity and VPN sectors the most. His friends call him 'the VPN expert.' In his free time, he likes to play football, watch movies, and enjoy a good show.

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