2. Uses of data

How is data used?

Data can be used to:

  • reveal answers to questions
  • make informed decisions
  • tell a story.

At university, you may be asked to use data to:

  • provide evidence to back up your conclusions
  • explain complex information
  • show trends or relationships
  • understand behaviour or why things happen.

Interpreting data can help us to build our knowledge and to inform research. It can tell us what is happening around us, or around the world, and how it might affect us. We can use the data to plan and evaluate. Researchers use data to understand why something occurs and to find solutions to problems.

Find out how your Spotify history data could help predict what’s going on with the economy. Researchers try to predict “economic sentiment” by identifying the emotional components of popular songs.


If you are collecting data or using existing data, it is important to do so ethically. Unethical use of data would include behaviour such as:

  • Breaching privacy
  • Using fake data
  • Plagiarising other people’s data by not acknowledging the source
  • Infringing copyright e.g. when scraping text and images from the web ( Find out more about web scraping in the next section)
  • Not getting permission from your research subjects.

UQ has policies that guide ethical behaviour at UQ, including:

Data at UQ explains the responsibilities and policies that we must comply with at UQ.

Any research undertaken in Australia, including at UQ, must comply with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

What kind of data is gathered on you?

Governments, organisations and businesses plan services based on the data they gather from us e.g. planning transport services or how much bread to put on supermarket shelves. Netflix uses data analysis to make predictions about the type of shows you will enjoy, to keep you coming back for more.

What kind of cookie are you?

cookies in a pile
Photo by Whitney Wright on Unsplash

If you have never done an online quiz you might find that a strange question. If you have done online quizzes, you will be familiar with this type of “just for fun” quiz.

Think about how much data they can gather from our answers. Not just about cookies!

In May 2023, Buzzfeed had over 94 million visitors to its website. So potentially, Buzzfeed has gathered a lot of data from us.



Big data

Big data refers to extremely large, complex sets of data that are generated by connected devices. Devices that connect to the Internet, often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), have the potential to produce massive amounts of data.  Governments, organisations and companies can analyse and gain valuable insight using big data.

Privacy vs pandemic: government tracking of mobile phones could be a potent weapon against COVID-19 – this article looks at the implications of governments using location history data from mobile phones to track the spread of infection.

Issues and challenges with big data:

  • how to store the data
  • getting software powerful enough to handle that much data
  • ethical concerns.

Read about some of the ethical concerns surrounding big data:

Find out how to protect your privacy in our Digital security module.

Our data can be really useful for researchers and others, as long as it is collected and used ethically.

ibis icon Bin chicken Google searches

Did your Google search contribute to the boom of the “bin chicken”?

Source: Google Trends and the Ibis icon is by parkjisun on the Noun Project.


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Work with Data and Files Copyright © 2023 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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