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

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The Invisible Data Trackers

Group 4: The Invisible Data Trackers

Augmenting all of this are a myriad of tracking technologies poised surreptitiously on each of the top websites, waiting to pounce on site visitors in a way that most people never see and seldom appreciate – with as many as several hundred groups launching a deluge of tracking code on our computers in a fraction of a second. If they can, they will latch onto us electronically and continue to follow our web activity on other sites as we move through the day. And using the same type of crawling technology developed for search engines, these programs search for key words or sentiment data using software "robots" that simulate human search, looking for contact details, resumes, email addresses, or a user's comments on discussion boards, blogs, or online chatrooms.

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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