The death of privacy (by big data)

big data and privacyWhen I was a teenager, this was a typical conversation in my house:

"Where are you going?"

"Out."

"When will you be back?"

"Later."

This snippet demonstrates two facts:

  1. 1. Teenagers are ingrates with terrible manners.
  2. 2. Privacy is a fundamental need for humankind.

The procurement of car keys probably escalated my degree of freedom and happiness, and increased my parents' degree of concern and insurance bills. Another couple decades of living may have improved my manners but they haven't changed my love of autonomous, anonymous rights to explore the world on my own terms. What I see and do, where I go and when, what I buy, that is my business and mine alone. What I share about it, with whom, in what media, that should also be my choice, and mine alone.

That choice is almost completely gone now. If privacy had a doomsday clock, then it's 11:59 and the bell tolls for your right to have any control over pervasive surveillance. Note that this isn't about cybersecurity, though of course that's essential. Authentication, encryption, masking, auditing; these are all good tools to combat data breaches. I see many big data vendors building this functionality for sensitive or personally identifiable information (PII), and I applaud them for doing the right thing here.

Yet almost no one is championing the cause of privacy for the individual. They may be protecting my data from others, but who is protecting my data from them? No one. The only goal is too exploit my information to maximum advantage. Big data vendors have built the economic nuclear warhead to destroy privacy globally, and businesses love them for the help.

"Opt out" is my battle cry. Except it's just not possible. Ever read an end-user license agreement or privacy policy? Me neither. Those are phenomenally stupid ways to communicate with people on this topic. Even lawyers think their time is too valuable to waste on reading that gobbledygook. We make another little deal with the devil in exchange for each and every digital service today. Even for apparently non-digital services. Our phones, our credit cards, our cars, our music and movie providers, and our grocery club cards are all furiously working to destroy our freedom for privacy.

No big data technology vendor seems to be building tools to protect the user, only to aid the exploits of the business, as their direct customers. This has got to change immediately. We need a new form of business ethics to protect the individual. You. Me. Everybody.

Technology vendors should build good controls. Businesses should shape good policy. Consumers should vote with their wallets and reward good behavior. Google was on the right track with their early slogan of “don’t be evil”, let’s expand and reinforce that concept. I for one would pay just a little more to be anonymous, and preserve my privacy a little longer.

identity access management infographic

Topics: Big Data Data Management Security and Privacy