Are Big Data and Analytics Ethically Defendable?

Author: Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, the Netherlands

It is an ethical question whether we should implement everything we can without considering the ethical and societal consequences of such implementations.

For more than 8 years now I have been writing the “I Think” column for the PAC World Magazine. In this time I have been lucky to witness a major change in our industry. With the introduction of the Smart Grid concepts the industry has moved from a relatively closed, conservative, society with well-known market parties to a highly dynamic market, technology and change driven environment with room for new players, new concepts and a lot of highly exciting projects.
In the years that I have been writing the column I have had the luxury of writing about anything and stating everything that I think.  This is a very rewarding thing to do as it had allowed me to express what I believe concerns the industry and hopefully provoke you as a reader to think about how you see or would like to see the world around you develop.

It is therefore that I have decided to write a slightly different column this time. I usually base my column on what I see and hear, but of course I do not know in detail what each of you think, or would like to read about.
It is thus that I kindly invite you to provide your list of topics on which you would like to hear my thoughts. I look forward to seeing them emerge…

Having started the column differently does not mean that I have no topic for this edition. I would like to spend a few phrases on the topic of Big Data and Analytics.

Everywhere we look we see articles and publications about the importance and complexity of Big Data and Analytics. Indeed, the enormous amounts of data that are being enabled by the Smart City and Smart Grid implementations are overwhelming, and the results of several of the Big Data and Analytics solutions are impressive
I think we are jumping the gun. This in the sense that I see a lot of excitement about the approaches and implementations, yet I fail to see the fundamental set of use cases that define the real needs and requirements for the Big Data and Analytics solutions.

I know that in a new field like Big Data and Analytics, there is the need for trials, investigations, fundamental research and development,  yet I wonder whether we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves by throwing Big Data into the mix for every major project we develop in the Smart City or Smart Grid domain.

Please don’t get me wrong, I believe in the concept and the power of well-defined Big Data and Analytics implementations, however I would like to see a comprehensive set of definitions across the entire value chain that define:

  • What we are trying to achieve, or solve
  • What the added value of such implementations is and
  • How we can create platforms of smart solutions that can serve answers to multiple questions at once and thus create significant repetitive benefits for society and serve as stepping stones for further enhancements

The Big Data and Analytics approach at the same time does scare me, as combining everything with everything creates images of Big Brother as depicted in George Orwell’s "1984", and it makes me wonder if our privacy and individual rights will become scrutinized with the Big Data and Analytics implementations…

To me it is becoming more and more an ethical question whether we should implement everything we can implement without considering the ethical and societal consequences of such implementations in the short, the medium and the long term.  


Marco C. Janssen graduated the Polytechnic in Arnhem, The Netherlands.  He developed further his professional skills through programs and training courses. Marco is President and Chief Commercial Officer of UTInnovation LLC, a company providing consulting & training services in the areas of protection, control, substation automation and data acquisition, and support on the new international standard IEC 61850, advanced metering and power quality.  He is a member of WG 10, 17, 18, & 19 of IEC TC57, the IEEE-PES and UCA International Users group.

Protecting your electrical assets? today and tomorrow