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Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee launches big data inquiry

The Science and Technology Committee is to launch an inquiry into big data to discover whether the government is doing enough to promote its benefits to businesses

The House of Commons select committee on Science and Technology has announced an inquiry into big data. The committee is soliciting written submissions by Thursday 3 September 2015.

The inquiry’s brief is to examine whether the government is doing enough to help businesses benefit from what it calls a “data revolution”, as well as to look at potential issues around data protection and privacy.

It will follow through on a report from November 2014 by the same parliamentary committee on the responsible use of social media data

The report found that the UK is well placed to use social media data and its analysis to improve governance and commercial opportunities, but there are persistent problems in ensuring the education system gives people the right skills to contribute to the industry.

It also believed that users of social media platforms are not fully aware of how their data might be used and what redress they may, or may not, have if they disagree with how an organisation exploits that data.

“Growth in computing power continues at a remarkable pace, bringing enormous economic and social opportunities as new public and private services are developed using big datasets,” said Nicola Blackwood, chair of the Science and Technology Committee.

“But there are also growing public concerns about the collection, use and sale of personal data,” she added. 

Big data was one of the “eight great technologies” identified by the last government, along with featured green IT. The two combined were allotted £189m of a £600m package announced by then-minister for universities and science David Willetts in January 2013.

Read more about UK government and big data

Big data is defined by the committee as “ways of handling datasets so large, dynamic and complex that traditional techniques are insufficient to analyse their content”.

The previous government also promoted the big data theme by supporting the Alan Turing Institute with £42m in March 2014 and announcing it as an institute for data science. The institute is currently headquartered at The British Library in London, under the collective umbrella of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, University College London (UCL), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Sue Daley, head of programme, big data, cloud and mobile at IT suppliers organisation techUK, welcomed the inquiry into big data because of the huge potential it has to drive the UK's productivity, job creation and economic growth.

“For every organisation and citizen across the UK to realise the full potential, benefits and value of big data, it’s vital we raise understanding and awareness of what big data is and where the opportunities lie,” she said.

“It’s important the inquiry takes into account the full breadth and depth of big data and the role of data analytics. It’s not just about social media or personalised advertising – big data has the potential to offer a wider range of benefits and efficiencies to organisations across both the public and private sectors. 

“We also encourage the committee to consider the essential role being played by UK companies leading the development of innovative big data and data analytics services, tools and systems,” she said.

Read more on Privacy and data protection