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Big Data in China: the Good and the Bad for Bruno Bossaerts

Bruno jokingly defines himself as a “data geek,” as his interest in the field of data and its applications goes beyond his daily tasks at the Dashmote Shanghai office. A background in finance and educational science, he’s the perfect professional to talk to, about a big topic.

The magnitude of such a topic is expected to pass the $100 billion mark in 2019, and it presents a stunning 25 to 30 percent growth. This is what happens when a powerful economy, in this case, China, meets a powerful source of innovation and, therefore, revenue.

Big Data in a big country

According to Bruno, Chinese people have a surprising laissez-faire attitude on how their data is handled compared to Europe or the US. As such, China has fewer data regulations. In fact, he explains that:

“People are much less concerned about their data in China. WeChat, for example, is very open about sharing its data with the Chinese government. People are of the idea that if you have nothing to hide, then it’s not a problem. They see innovation in data, they see it as what funnels innovation and growth in China, so they won’t hamper it with data regulations and protocols.”

“On a personal level, it can be infringing on privacy but, on a business level, it can create a lot of opportunities for organizations to use that data to improve upon things.”

This open handling of data has contributed to the technological boom which has so transformed Chinese society. With such a deep integration of people and technology, Chinese society acts as a snapshot into the future, indicating the kind of futuristic technology that Europe can expect to experience in years to come.

These open attitudes about data have also resulted in WeChat users coming up with more innovative ways of marketing. Bruno recalls a situation at the Shanghai metro from last week:

“There was this girl walking around with a QR code on her phone, asking strangers to scan it and follow her company on WeChat.” Perhaps people in other countries would have refused to do so, but – as Bruno explains – she didn’t have much difficulty in convincing those around her to participate.

For Bruno, the girl’s approach perfectly sums up the Chinese peoples’ universal embrace of technology and their innovative ways of integrating that technology into every aspect of their lives. 

China’s technological boom: 3 reasons why

How did this lackadaisical attitude regarding data come about? According to Bruno, there are three social factors that can explain this technological boom.

The first factor is a lack of awareness. Bruno explains that there is less general awareness regarding data privacy and risk. While in Europe public awareness regarding data is promoted via governments, social media, education, and the like, such concerns are less apparent in China.

A second reason can be attributed to China’s collectivist culture, in which the needs and goals of the group, the collective, is placed before the needs of the individual. The collectivist nature of Chinese culture is also reflected in the usage of data. As Bruno explains, “If giving up some personal data would benefit the whole group, then why wouldn’t you do it, too?”

Investigating the on-trade distribution in the Beer market

Lastly, we can’t rule out convenience as a factor. The Chinese are not shy to trade in privacy over convenience. In fact, according to a report published by the Experian and Data International Corporation, the Chinese are the most willing to give up their privacy, like their name, phone number, or even digital fingerprints, for safety and convenience. If sharing one’s data makes your digital life just a little easier and even safer, why not?

The future of Big Data in China

Naturally, with these open attitudes on Big Data, and with technology developing at such an accelerated pace, one wonders the path this will all take in the future.

Bruno has both positive and pessimistic ideas about the future.

As with anything to do with Big Data, automation is on everyone’s lips. This is especially so in China. According to the Financial Times, in just three years, automation has pushed out over 40% of jobs in a number of Chinese industrial companies. Those formerly in manufacturing positions are turning to program courses to try to make a living out of this fast-paced, digital world.

And yet, while China’s way of approaching Big Data certainly isn’t without its drawbacks, there are also benefits to this approach.

The massive amount of information collected from the hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens allows for a greater ability to spot patterns. This bodes well for the healthcare industry, for example. The unfettered data also allows one to build better, faster, and more thorough digital technology.

One thing is certain though, for Bruno: “Not only are we getting more data every day, but we are also developing better technology for handling and analyzing the data, and we can make better decisions according to that. One thing I can be certain of? Big Data will get bigger and bigger – it’s only going to snowball from here on out.”