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August 20, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Dark Data: What You Need to Know

In today’s ever evolving, hyper connected market, businesses must be able to harness data effectively in order to innovate, optimize productivity, and establish a meaningful consumer base. By integrating the proper data into daily operations, businesses can learn about consumer habits, marketplace trends, and stay ahead of the curve to become successful.

But there is a large portion of data that goes completely unutilized which poses both great benefits and major concerns to organizations and consumers alike. This information is known as “dark data”.

To be exact, dark data is defined as “data to which companies have access but are not using effectively.” This vast amount of information is essentially untapped and unprotected from outside influence. If companies can develop a system to manage this knowledge, new patterns can be identified and insights can be greatly enhanced for better decision making processes that improve meager margins and advance consumer relations.

Let’s take a look at the rewards that can be reaped, pitfalls that can be encountered, and how to manage the risks associated with this idle data:

The Pros

If this valuable data goes unused, various teams such as design, engineering, and product development, along with others miss out on incredible insights that could potentially have a major impact on an organization’s bottom line. Dark data could provide a more complete view of consumer habits, product usage, and overall performance.

In the era of social media, this information becomes extremely vital to study as consumers become more than just customers to a brand. They have essentially become ambassadors for businesses with the power to positively or negatively influence large numbers of people with a single tweet or update. Connecting with a consumer base through this type of data is now absolutely imperative.

Recently, certain organizations such as M-Files, an enterprise information management company, have been stepping up to assist organizations in harnessing the immense amount of existing dark data. With proper analysis, companies can uncover vital trends about their customers, competitors, and marketplace.

By expanding the scope of information that companies analyze, new levels of innovation and resilience can be attained and the extreme reaches of the value chain can be explored. This is critical because the digitally informed consumer is in a state of constant evolution towards customization, convenience, and mobility. Without learning to integrate new forms of data into organizational structure, companies can soon become stagnant and plateau.

The Cons

Thus far, the main reason that many companies have not learned to manage dark data is because of the resources necessary to successfully take on such a large undertaking. Without a doubt, it requires a good deal of time, resources, and available tools to structure and pull significant meaning from this information.

Allowing the data to remain dark, however, could have a far greater impact on a company. The unprotected, largely ignored data can potentially house information about the company, its customers, and operations that could be detrimental in the wrong hands.

Some of the risks involved include:

  • Intelligence risks – If your dark data includes proprietary or sensitive information surrounding competitive advantages, business operations, important partnerships, or similar insights, business relationships and activities can be severely damaged if not altogether destroyed by the loss of this data to hackers.
  • Legal risks – Any data that is protected by mandate or regulation such as credit card information could pose a financial and legal liability.
  • Reputation risks – Any sort of digital security breach reflects very poorly on a company and the same goes for dark data. If this information is acquired by any unwanted parties, it could be disastrous for the organization.

These are only a few of the potential dangers that accompany dark data. By not taking control of this information and managing it accordingly, your business becomes susceptible to all of these hazards and more.

How to Diminish Liability

Considering the massive pros and cons associated with dark data, it’s important for companies to know how to effectively handle this information in order to keep the data secure. There are numerous companies, technologies, and strategies that businesses can utilize to keep this data sheltered and protected:

  • Universal encryption – The fact is that hackers are constantly trying to breach security measures to obtain guarded information. This was seen numerous times throughout 2014. Strong encryption measures should be taken on all company information. This includes dark data for the reasons stated above.
  • Dark data audits – The majority of organizations routinely conduct periodic security audits to evaluate exposures, risks, and effectiveness of policies. Dark data should also be a touchpoint in these protocols.
  • Retention and disposal policies – IT and executive management should continually collaborate with organizational figures in order to establish which data can be destroyed and which needs to be protected. This way there is not a surplus of useless data to be managed.

The importance of cyber security cannot be overstressed here as breaches and lost data could bring an organization to its knees.

Given the proper respect and attention to both the benefits and hindrances of dark data, businesses can learn to utilize, protect, and draw true value and meaning from this resource. By unearthing the correct data with substance that outweighs the risks associated, an organization can uncover some true worthwhile discoveries.

Do you think that the pros of dark data outweigh the cons OR should businesses eliminate this information to err on the side of caution?


Digital producer, online marketer, community manager, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney-Brown has been managing cross-functional teams for online businesses since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, community management, social networks, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and spiritual counselor. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.