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Emerging international powers are all in on Big Data. What will it mean?

How does the way our government handles big data influence our daily lives? In a talk in our Productivity during Pandemic series, Laura Mahrenbach speaks about the “Emerging Powers and Big Data: Domestic Transformations and Global Power Shifts”. And boy, did it raise a lot of questions.

Mar 01, 2021

Written by: Abbe Edelson

How does the way our government handles big data influence our daily lives?  

I recently watched the talk by Productivity during Pandemic speaker Laura Mahrenbach on “Emerging Powers and Big Data: Domestic Transformations and Global Power Shifts”.  And boy did it raise a lot of questions.

She explores how big data is being used in China, Brazil and India and how that use might contribute to global power shifts.

Image of Dr. Laura Mahrenbach


Dr. Mahrenbach is a research fellow and lecturer at Technical University of Munich and the principal investigator on a three year project, “Conceptualizing Emerging Powers.”

Her research has found that there are three main policy visions for big data in Brazil, China and India:

  • Enhancing political liberation or enhancing political repression.

Liberation was more important than repression, but saw governments talking about surveillance of big data or decreasing transparency in policy-making. Not just in China.

  • Improve government service provision – using big data to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of government services by knowing who is accessing what, when and how.
  • Facilitating Development: such as educational opportunities, new opportunities for business.

India, Brazil and China all share these ideas for how big data can be used, but in practice each country emphasizes them to a different extent. Overall, Mahrenbach’s research shows that:

  • Governments set the pace of direction of how big data is used.
  • There is a limited role for individuals in how governments are using big data
  • Governments are using big data with intent, political savvy and they are pragmatic.
  • Governments dominate big data strategy and implementation.

Mahrenbach covers a lot of controversial ideas in this talk. She ends with a quote from the UN Development Program’s Digital Strategy:

“Digital is not a panacea and there are places where it will not be useful. It’s important to know when and when not to use technology.”

This is a thought provoking session. If you are interested in the impact of big data on our lives, watch it at