Beware the Data Collectors for They Are Us: Privacy and Big Data

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Big Data Is Usually Personal Data

When people use the term Big Data, they can mean anything from analyzing large data sets for epidemiology or gene research to crunching financial services and market data on a real-time basis.

But let's be honest. Despite advocation for its unique value in more specialized fields of science, engineering and economics, when people talk about Big Data these days, we can be pretty certain that they're talking about focusing money and technology on one thing: the collection and analysis of personal data from consumers and customers.

For enthusiastic technologists, Big Data promises new opportunities, interesting work, and the potential to make a lot of money. But we techies are consumers and citizens too. Like everyone else, our personal data is constantly being captured and exchanged through millions of electronic transactions in a data collection market now worth many billions of dollars worldwide.

Each day the enormously powerful Internet technology companies (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), credit reporting agencies, retailers of every size (including electronic retailers like Alibaba and Amazon), and a myriad of smaller online data tracking groups, use evermore powerful and ingenious monitoring technologies to track and record our daily activities – our preferences, likes and dislikes, what we buy, what we search for, who we know, where we've been. In fact, an entire industry – now a vital part of the digital economy and therefore important to continued economic growth – has emerged that is dependent upon the collection and sale of personal data in ways that would have been uncountenanced in the past. We should know; we're the architects of the technology that makes that personal data market possible.

But at the same time, no one should know better than we do that data hackers and the universality of the Internet means that personal data is never really secure – it can be openly bought and sold, made available around the globe, irretrievable and un-erasable. In our enthusiasm for all things "Big Data," are we abetting the data collectors in something that might be bad for society's (and our own) best interest?

Download an excerpt from Digital Exhaust: What Everyone Should Know About Big Data, Digitization and Digitally Driven Innovation by Dale Neef.

Dale Neef is a businessman, consultant, speaker, and author specializing in "Big Data" management issues and electronic monitoring and reporting technologies. He has been a technical consultant for the Asian Development Bank, has worked for IBM and Computer Sciences Corporation, and was a fellow at Ernst & Young's Center for Business Innovation. A frequent contributor to journals, and a regular speaker at technology conferences, he earned his doctorate from Cambridge University, was a research fellow at Harvard, and has written or edited eight books on the economics of knowledge and data management and the use of information technology to mitigate risk.


Related Topics : Vulnerabilities and Patches, Resellers, Broadcom, Broadband Services, Supercomputing

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