Big data and the myth of anonymity

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Big data and the myth of anonymity
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Understanding the problem

As consumers continue to trade privacy for convenience, organisations are getting better at targeted promotions. Is this really such a bad thing?

The problem, Friedman admits, is privacy protection technologies are still catching up with the data analysis process.

“There is a conflict between the desire to extract useful knowledge and still maintain privacy of individuals.

“It’s very hard to strike this balance and in some cases we have to accept there might be some privacy loss if we want to get a benefit from using the data for good.”

Friedman cites medical research as one field that has been grappling with this issue for years. More recently though, it is how Australia’s largest companies use the increasing amount of data being made publicly available that will throw up new questions about just what is “good”.

Caetano says the central idea behind big data will be one of ethics, not technology.

“It turns out ethics needs to be brought to the core of every single discussion of modern society because we are now observing the data is not just about stuff, the data is about people.”

In this environment, Caetano says, consumers are unable to anticipate what one seemingly small piece of data they release about themselves could ultimately lead to.

“Whenever any piece of data about yourself is being collected, you are not really releasing only information that is directly associated with that piece of data, but any potential information that is correlated with that particular piece of data.”

Caetano says this is the new paradigm that both consumers and businesses need to understand.

“Given this understanding and this awareness we need to thinking how we can build a society, build mechanisms, institutions, organisations and legislation that actually fully embrace and understand this truth, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.”

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