IBM Leader Argues Open Data Key to Deterring Big Data Abuse

Loraine Lawson
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How to Effectively Address Privacy Concerns

Open data standards might be one way to protect citizens against the potential threats posed by Big Data, writes IBM Information Strategist Steve Adler in IBM’s Data Magazine.

“Having a third party such as the NSA isn’t intrinsically dangerous because that party knows what we are doing,” Adler writes in “Data is Reality.” “What is dangerous is the possibility that that party—be it in the public or private sector—can change the data that describes who we are, what we’ve done, and influence what we may choose to do in the future.”

He contends that open data standards are the answer because the standards can provide “the authoritative basis for ascertaining where data came from, who touched it, how it was calculated, and who has certified its authenticity.”


If you’ve been following the ongoing IBM vs. NSA vs. The Public debate, this will inevitably call to mind the company’s open letter to customers this March, in which IBM denied giving the NSA client data or putting “backdoors” in its solutions, and so on.

Noted security expert Bruce Schneier questioned IBM’s true intent, however, calling out what he saw as too-careful wording that left IBM in a position of plausible deniability.

IBM has long supported open data standards. However, the NSA is giving IBM, and perhaps others, a new reason to push for their across-the-board use. Adler contends that this is all the more important when you consider the potential pervasiveness of the Internet of Things.

In a previous piece, Adler wrote about how the Internet of Things could even be the Internet of Trees, with utilities marking trees for potential problems, such as growing into pipes. In Adler’s scenario, each tree receives a universal resource locator, which he says could be possible within the next five years.

“But is an Internet of Trees any less ridiculous? Not in the least,” he writes. “Open data and URIs enable people to add details to trees and streets and lampposts and guardrails and buildings and parks. These details are in a bidirectional relationship of data publishing and use that describes the attributes of peoples’ lives in a complex web, which defines exactly what a city is—life and events, past, present, and future.”

In the April column, he envisions this and other, historical data sets as viewable from your car window/screen, creating a virtual experience of the city’s history. It’s a fun idea — but one thing is standing in “our way,” he writes: the National Security Agency.

Adler’s not concerned with privacy violation, which is perhaps not surprising, given IBM’s vested interest in the Internet of Things. Instead, he’s worried about the manipulation of that data to create dangerous untruths.

However, to argue that privacy is not the bigger concern is, well, an interesting proposition, particularly in the U.S., where many contend that the Constitution implies privacy as an inalienable right.



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