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Bubble to panopticon: dark undercurrents of the big data torrent

Mathew Maavak (Big Data Excellence Centre, Kazimieras Simonavicius University, Vilnius, Lithuania)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 24 September 2019

Issue publication date: 20 February 2020




Big data are indispensable in scientific endeavours ranging from nuclear research to climate studies. However, there is a growing misperception that congeries of data can be easily reconstructed into competitive business insights. Such notions have been encouraged by a plethora of mainstream techno-utopian forecasts.


This paper investigated such claims and related big data developments, including its “systems-first” and oligopolistic orientations. Due to the paucity of current scholarship on an admittedly pessimistic topic, the paper studied contrarian developments in the industry by relying on secondary data. The study of experts and scholars; industrial trends; and discrepancies and critical gaps in the mainstream data narrative were sourced to prognosticate the likely trajectory of many data giants.


A key finding was that the big data industry faces an untenable market bubble worth trillions of dollars. This will have severe consequences for common digital access and social stability worldwide. Evidence presented also suggests that the data industrial complex may undergo a function creep by facilitating a transition from surveillance capitalism to surveillance society.

Research limitations/implications

Primary data for a study of this nature may take years to materialize. This is a “first-pass” study that seeks to illuminate latent dangers facing the big data/AI sector. There is a paucity of scholarly study that even remotely touches on this topic. Therefore, supporting arguments was sourced from contemporary reports and expert study (secondary data).

Practical implications

As control of data may have geostrategic implications, balkanization of the wired ecosystem may be underway with Russia and China leading the way. Future superpowers may be defined by the way they handle data. The concentration of data in fewer hands may also affect citizen innovation.

Social implications

A break-down of the data industrial complex may lead to social mayhem as the monetization of presently free software, blogs and social media platforms may be unfeasible.


This topic has hardly been explored due to the novelty of big data, its applications and the daily hype over its potentials. This paper boldly describes dark countercurrents in the industry.



Maavak, M. (2020), "Bubble to panopticon: dark undercurrents of the big data torrent", Kybernetes, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 1046-1060.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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