Now that big data collection is here, there’s no way to put the genie back into the bottle. That’s what Craig Mundie, Senior Adviser at Microsoft thinks. He suggests people who spend time arguing about how to control data mining are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. They should be looking at how “data can and cannot be used.” (“Privacy Pragmatism,” by Craig Mundie, Foreign Affairs, March/April, pg. 33)
Everyday, people give away information about themselves simply by using their electronic devices. Got a phone with a GPS system, for example? If so, the world knows where you are and probably has a good idea of what you are doing. Or, did you go shopping lately and use your buyers rewards card? If so, you’ve exposed yourself to “passive” collection. As Mundie explains, passive collection occurs when people provide data for one purpose but the information winds up on some other data collection system. Anyone connected to the web by any electrical device leaves “’data exhaust’ as a by-product.” (Ibid pg. 28)
People in leadership roles are aware of this exhaust and are trying to provide protections. The European Union, for example, has drafted data protection regulations which are expected to be implemented in 2016. As drafted, the rules give individuals the right to be forgotten and imposes fines on companies or organizations that fail to comply with requests to have information withdrawn. (Ibid pg. 32) Unfortunately, data collection is so pervasive, an individual may not remember all the licensing agreements he or she has accepted, much less have read all the fine print. In the end, some data exhaust is going to remain somewhere.
One bright spot exists in all this data collection Mundie reminds us. The aggregated data helps governments fight crime and terrorists plots and gives health organizations an insight into how they can thwart diseases. Big Data collection is neither good or bad, the author concludes. What matters is how the data is used. People have a right to know who is gaining access to their information and for what reason. Most data he believes should remain “inert” or not viewed and mandatory audits should be in place to signal that someone is asking for information and why. Focusing on use rather than collection, Mundie feels, is the best way to provide a semblance of security, keeping in mind that much data has already been collected and that some of the cats are already out of the bag.
So much talk of exhaust, leaves me feeling light headed, I admit. But I can appreciate the irony of the situation in which we find ourselves. Government agencies, like NSA, that collect big data maybe the only ones large enough to monitor their systems and protect us from breaches that threaten our privacy. As the saying goes, we may have to send a thief to catch a thief.
(Courtesy of www.toonpool.com)