Today I attended the Big Data Innovation Summit in Toronto. The first presentation was by Samantha Liscio, Corporate Chief Strategist at Ontario Public Service.
Among the number of topics touched on during the presentation, Privacy was mentioned as the “elephant in the room” of Big Data.
Samantha talked about “privacy by design,” the concept that has become one of the core principles of the Ontario Government’s Big Data initiatives. Privacy by Design advances the view that the future of privacy cannot be assured solely by compliance with regulatory frameworks; rather, privacy assurance must ideally become an organization’s default mode of operation. She pointed out that privacy in general is a big challenge today because the existing technology practice with Big Data does not enforce data depersonalization. It’s therefore very easy for any organization or government to infer a lot of personal identifiable information about anyone, particularly when they combine structured and unstructured data from multiple sources (such as social media).
We’ve recently heard a great deal about issues related to privacy and national security with the leak of PRISM in the United States – the clandestine national security electronic surveillance program that has been operated by the NSA since 2007. PRISM is a government codename for a data collection effort – the existence of which was leaked by an NSA contractor earlier this month. You may find more information about Edward Snowden and PRISM as well as other government surveillance programs in the article by By Lavanya Rathnam – PRISM, Snowden and Government Surveillance: 6 Things You Need To Know.
As a proponent of Big Data within this maelstrom of controversy, there are some immediate questions that come to my mind:
- Do we care – and should we care – about privacy in the current big data world?
- What risks exist for us as individuals when governments and businesses may have so much more information about us?
- Is it possible – or likely – that people working for organizations who collect personal consumer data access it for their own private interests?
- How to we combat cyber criminal organizations who have already become extremely powerful in the last few years?
There are definite benefits for businesses to use big data to provide more intelligent, personalized and better experiences to customers. At the same time, government services can use it to the advantage of its citizens. But we have learned that there is a very dark side to Big Data.
So what is more important – privacy or convenience? And, how can we find the right balance?
We invite you to comment about what you think about Big Data and privacy.
How do you want businesses and governments to handle Big Data technology?
by Igor Nesmyanovich