Big Data and the Erosion of Privacy

The Wall Street Journal’s CEO council recently published an article about the benefits and perils of restricting Big Data and what role governments should play.  The article, linked at the bottom, suggests that policies need to be defined around security and privacy and that the government should define what data are legal/illegal and that consumers should have a voice in what information is public and private.   The article goes on to suggest that cybersecurity standards should be established jointly between public and private sector and that the U.S. should take the lead in creating a Global Data Treaty defining universal standards on data privacy and ownership.

The definition of Big Data is very nebulous.   It is a concern any time government becomes involved in creating standards around a new or developing technology, even more so when that arena is as ill defined as Big Data.   The day may come when we have an accepted definition of Big Data, but until that point it seems premature to begin regulating and policing something that we can’t even define.

Over the last two decades we have been transformed into an always on, always connected society and in the process we have agreed to give up any expectation of privacy.   Consider how many times you have clicked through a privacy statement, tapped “ok” when your device asks for permission to use your location, logged on to public Wi-Fi networks, scanned an affinity card at a retail outlet,  add in Facebook posts, tweets, LinkedIn updates and the plethora of other social media outlets and the myth of privacy quickly evaporates. We live in a post privacy society that longs to have standards and regulations to provide a shimmering illusion of protection.

Big Data is not the culprit; it is the culmination of small, seemingly innocent, actions over the course of many years colliding with technology that has the capacity to correlate that information into actionable intelligence.   We have an abundance of privacy laws in the U.S. and adding more would be redundant. While international treaties on cybersecurity and privacy may provide an illusion safety the truth is that the bad guys will not abide by the rules so why bother going through the motions.

A more interesting discussion would be why, after volunteering gigabytes and terabytes of personal information, the issue of privacy is at the center of the Big Data discussion?  What is or should be private in the post privacy age?   I am very interested in feedback on this topic and will be diving deeper into these questions in upcoming posts…

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