Medium 9781449305000

Privacy and Big Data

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Much of what constitutes Big Data is information about us. Through our online activities, we leave an easy-to-follow trail of digital footprints that reveal who we are, what we buy, where we go, and much more. This eye-opening book explores the raging privacy debate over the use of personal data, with one undeniable conclusion: once data's been collected, we have absolutely no control over who uses it or how it is used.

Personal data is the hottest commodity on the market today—truly more valuable than gold. We are the asset that every company, industry, non-profit, and government wants. Privacy and Big Data introduces you to the players in the personal data game, and explains the stark differences in how the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the world approach the privacy issue.

You'll learn about:

  • Collectors: social networking titans that collect, share, and sell user data
  • Users: marketing organizations, government agencies, and many others
  • Data markets: companies that aggregate and sell datasets to anyone
  • Regulators: governments with one policy for commercial data use, and another for providing security

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6 Slices

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1. The Perfect Storm

ePub

If, like us, you spent the last 20 years or so working in the high tech industry, youve had a birds-eye view of the evolving data privacy debate. No matter where you fall on the privacy continuumfrom a cavalier approach to how your data is being collected and used to a more cynical and, some might argue, paranoid view of the endless ways your information could be hijackedit is safe to say that the stakes have never been higher.

There is a perfect storm brewing; a storm fueled by innovations that have altered how we talk and communicate with each other. Who could have predicted 20 years ago that the Internet would have an all-encompassing effect on our lives? Outside of sleeping, we are connected to the Web 24/7, using our laptops, phones, or iPads to check our email, read our favorite blogs, look for restaurants and jobs, read our friends Facebook walls, buy books, transfer money, get directions, tweet and foursquare our locations, and organize protests against dictatorships from anywhere in the world. Welcome to the digital age.

 

2. The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age

ePub

Although the digital age we now live in has certainly raised the stakes on what is possible for governments, organizations of all kinds, and businesses to find out about us, the concept of privacy has always been around. We have argued about privacy, redefined what it means to be private, been fearful or cavalier about perceived privacy erosions, and sounded death knells for the end of privacy as we know it. Websters defines privacy as the quality or state of being apart from company or observation and ones right to privacy as freedom from intrusion. How can a simple concept provoke such heated debate?

Perhaps the answer lies in the simplicity itself as it allows each one of us to interpret what it means to be private and that interpretation is shaped by available technology, our culture, history, and worldview. One cannot discuss privacy without also considering context. And what is contextually important to you may not be important to me. For example, I might object to Google Maps having an image of my home but you would only care if your child is visible in the image. We both believe that Google Maps makes our lives easier, the real issue is: what level of privacy are we willing to give up for that convenience? In this, as in most things, context is everything.

 

3. The Regulators

ePub

The Internet has no geographic boundaries. For the most part, its data flows freely. However, just because there are no are no boundaries, it does not necessarily follow that all countries allow the data to flow unchecked. For example, several countries block access to YouTube. China, known for having the most advanced and extensive filtering systems, blocks access to any site that contains keywords, such as democracy and human rights.[17] There is an increasingly alarming trend towards just-in-time Internet blocking where users are prevented access to information at key political inflection points, such as elections or times of social unrest, where the websites of opposition parties, the media, Twitter, and Facebook are blocked as illustrated by the recent Middle East and North African protests. Sometime Internet access is blocked completely, as demonstrated in Egypt where the government was able bring the Internet and cell phone service down.

While the Internet is global, the way we govern and do business is not. We operate as countries or regions and our businesses may be limited to one city or town or may reach around the globe. What one country or region enacts in the name of privacy, is felt around the world. So, how do countries regulate the collection, use, and protection of their citizens personal information?

 

4. The Players

ePub

Wherever you go, whatever you do, anywhere in this world, some thing is tracking you. Your laptop, and other personal devices, like an iPad, Smartphone, or Blackberry, all play a role, and contribute to building a very detailed dossier of your likes, concerns, preferred airlines, favorite vacation spots, how much money you spend, political affiliations, who youre friends with, the magazines you subscribe to, the make and model of the car you drive, the kinds of foods you buy, the list goes on. There are now RFID chips in hotel towels and bathrobes to dissuade you from taking them with you while your in-room mini bar collects information about every item youve consumed (to ensure that its properly stocked for your next visit). That convenient E-ZPass not only makes your commute easier, but it also helps to provide an accurate picture of your whereabouts on any given day, at any given time, as do all the video cameras installed at ATMs, in stores, banks, and gas stations, on highways, and at traffic intersections. Your car collects information about youfrom your location, speed, steering, brake use, and driving patterns. Although your home may be your castle, it is not, in the world we now live in, impenetrable. Google Maps provides a very accurate and detailed picture of it, and in the course of getting that picture, if you happened to have had an unencrypted Wi-Fi network, scooped up personal data as well. You may be aware of all the digital tracking that is going on by the Internet giants (Google, Facebook, and the rest), but with almost 40 percent of PCs worldwide infected with some form of malware that can gather information and send it back to their authors, that may be the least of your worries.

 

5. Making Sense of It All

ePub

Like it or not, we live in interesting times.[64] Coined by Robert Kennedy in a graduation speech to the National Union of South African Students in 1966 (with some argument as to whether its origins lie in a Chinese curse or proverb), Kennedy was alluding to the ongoing Civil Rights movement:

Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged -- will ultimately judge himself -- on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.[65]

Every generation faces seminal moments in history where a path must be taken and that path will shape the future. There are always inflection points where the unknown becomes known. There are always moments when the actions we take have unintended consequences; how we deal with those consequences will define us as individuals, businesses, governments, and countries.

 

A. Afterword

ePub

Over the course of writing this book we have been asked many times about how it was to collaborate on this grand production of ours. The next question, of course, was whether we changed our minds about the state of privacy in the age of big data. (And the final question was where we still friends? The answer, unequivocally, is yes.) Within the book, we tried to represent all sides of the privacy debate regardless of where we stood (although we are equally sure that you might be able to discern our opinions on some of the topics). This is our opportunity to share with you our thoughts (singularly as opposed to the all inclusive we) on the process and on privacy in general.

Mary and I have been friends and co-workers for a long time. This is our second startup together. It is considered a fait accompli in startup land that a technical founder/CEO (me) and a classically trained VP of Marketing (her), will not get along but thankfully, in our case it has been a pleasant and fruitful collaboration with both of us learning from each other. So how hard could co-authoring a book be? Pretty damn hard, it turns out. There are the mechanics of the writing process itself, meeting deadlines, matching styles, fighting over different interpretations of grammar rules Mary is a fan of Strunk & White and I, on the other hand, think e.e. cummings is a god. Then there is the content itself. Privacy, as we mention in the book, is one of those topics as controversial in its way as what my Father called the bar fight trifecta: Religion, Politics and Another Mans Spouse. (Those three topics when combined with a couple of beers, could be guaranteed to get even the best of friends swinging bar stools at each other with abandon.)

 

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