• Helen Pritchett

Data: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


With the start of the Winter Olympics, we’ve been thinking about the value of data and how it links with every facet of our lives. Data might seem innocuous, irrelevant even, but it is vital. How you use and share your data and the status of your data privacy is critical.

In general, data is simply another word for information. It is through data collection that an organisation obtains the type of quality information they need to make informed decisions. Without this companies would make decisions based on guestimates and assumptions. Data collection allows organisations to stay on top of trends, uncover insightful information and provide answers to problems, all whilst analysing such insights to great effect.

This month we’re taking a topical look at the link between data and sport on two levels, firstly, the impact data can have on sport and the performance of professional athletes and, secondly, how secure your personal data might be if visiting China for this month’s Winter Olympic Games.


Data and Sport – an undeniable connection.

Whilst traditionally, success at sports has been down to human traits such as physical fitness, training, aptitude and skill, these days many sports now rely on data to improve player strategy, inform team tactics, and develop winning potential. Data matters, and sport is a prime example of this. As you watch the Winter Olympic Games over the next 2 weeks, spare a thought for the data scientists crunching the data behind the scenes to provide the athletes with the absolute best opportunity to win medals.


Let’s take a look at one sport – alpine skiing… The problem with alpine skiing data is the fact every mountain and every course is different. The kinetic forces on each skier in each race are virtually impossible to model. Thanks to wearable sensor technologies, it has become feasible to quantify human kinematics more cost effectively and comprehensively during alpine skiing, but the complication arises when trying to apply to raw data to beneficial coaching techniques.


Data allows for better strategizing, which is an integral part of any team or individual sport or commercial operation. Professional athletes and teams are dependent on these strategies to compete and win against their rivals, just as their counterparts in the commercial world are. We can easily relate to how great data helps companies develop and market products better but how does data help in sport? Modern coaching makes use of big data sets to create winning strategies, helping individual athletes and teams. For example, in football, data science allows the creation of hyper-personalised athlete matchups and other strategies for every match a team plays. Big data has improved many industries over the last few years and is no stranger to the sporting field. It has helped athletes enhance their performance, broadcasters improve their fan engagement, and coaches develop their gameplay tactics. (Source: Selerity)


Data and privacy – beware the ‘Orwellian surveillance state’

China is not known for its respect for personal freedoms or its human rights record and with the Winter Olympic Games about to start, data privacy is a cause for concern. According to the FBI, athletes and visitors heading to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing should leave their phones at home and use temporary, ‘burner’ phones instead. The organisation has cautioned competitors about malware, data theft and the installation of ‘tracking tools’ on mobile devices. "The FBI urges all athletes to keep their personal mobile phones at home and use a temporary phone while at the Games," it wrote. (Source: BBC News)


Beijing requires all athletes to install a smartphone app called MY2022 to report health and travel data while in China. The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab reported the app as having significant encryption and security flaws and a censorship list (albeit currently inactive) of 2,442 “illegal words.” The security flaws are by design, allowing authorities to access phones. Such subtle approaches are common among intelligence services. Citizen Lab’s report suggests that the mandatory app:

  • Is insecure when it came to protecting personal data

  • Has an encryption flaw which enables third parties to access documents, audio, and files

  • Is subject to censorship based on a list of keywords

  • Has a flawed privacy policy which is not clear about who receives and processes any data uploaded to it


Team GB athletes have been offered temporary mobile phones by the British Olympic Association (BOA) and advised to leave their own devices at home due to the risk of being spied on by the Chinese government. Although members of the UK delegation do not have to accept the offer, the BOA fears Beijing could install spyware on athletes’ personal devices to extract private information or track future interactions.


China refutes the claims, but what seems clear is that all attendees to the games should take extra care of their personal data. In the Western world, use of data brings with it significant responsibilities. In Europe, the GDPR is key in providing the legislative arena for the protection of personal data, and all data gathering, storage and processing organisations have enormous levels of accountability to adhere to. China, in contrast has a quite different outlook on personal data. More about the types of data misuse athletes and spectators might expect can be found in this article by The Diplomat.


Back to data basics

Data is big business. It has huge value. Data is vital in informing and marketing activity. A database can provide insight and intelligence on demographics, geography, previous purchasing behaviours, transactions, and a whole host of other tremendously useful information. The right data can make the difference as the success of any marketing campaign hinges on the accuracy of your chosen data.


Data is changing the face of our world.


When planning your next marketing foray, make sure you are aware of the value of data; your data source and target audience should be at the core of your preparation.




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