Why big data and privacy are often at odds

Why big data and privacy are often at odds

User privacy concerns date back at least 200 years. In the 1800s, newspapers were more than a little invasive in their quest for news. In the early 1900s, wiretapping came into play with the invention of the telephone recorder.

Both examples pale in comparison to what currently keeps privacy pundits awake at night: big data capture and analysis.

"Past conflicts between privacy and new technology have generally related to what is now termed 'small data,' the collection and use of data sets by private- and public-sector organizations where the data are disseminated in their original form or analyzed by conventional statistical methods," mention the authors (the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) of Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective, a 2014 report to the US President. "Today's concerns about big data reflect both the substantial increases of data being collected and associated changes, both actual and potential, in how it is used."

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Jungwoo Ryoo, associate professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University, in The Conversation commentary Big data security problems threaten consumers' privacy suggests there are consumer privacy concerns with big data capture and analysis. "Companies are eager to deliver targeted advertising to you and tracking your every online move," writes Ryoo. "Big data makes this tracking easier to do, less expensive, and more easily analyzed."

"A service like IBM's Personality Insights can build a detailed profile of you, moving well beyond basic demographics or location information," adds Ryoo. "Your online habits can reveal aspects of your personality, such as whether you are outgoing, environmentally conscious, politically conservative, or enjoy travel in Africa."

If you are a marketer, tired of getting online ads that do not apply, or plagued by online fraud, then big data capture and analysis are beneficial. However, Ryoo cautions, "Industry representatives make benign claims about this capability, saying it improves users' online experiences. But it is not hard to imagine that the same information could be very easily used against us."

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It seems a majority of consumers agree with Ryoo.


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