I recently saw a low-budget documentary about the perils of big data when applied too broadly to consumer mobile device data. The filmmakers emphasized that when data collection is expanded to include applications like widespread video and audio analysis, significant thought must be given to governance and strict definition of appropriate use cases. Un-authorized access to this real-time information stream could easily lead to personally identifiable information (PII) being used for choosing a particular member of a specific demographic and plotting the individual’s geographic paths, even intercepting them with targeted payloads at vulnerable moments. All without the knowledge or consent of the citizen.
(Image from Universal Studios, 2015. Congrats to Dell on the big data and analytics platform product placement.)
If this sounds scary to you, it should, because the documentary in question was “Furious 7,” and if technology debate is now at that level, we as an industry have really missed the opportunity to set and articulate adequate controls. Just as the Terminator and Matrix movies made us appreciate the need for better AI design, the risks of unchecked big data and customer profiling may also need to be addressed. Like yesterday. This conversation really shouldn’t be guided by the Kurt Russells of the world.
Or the Facebooks. I still shudder about the question asked upon installation of Facebook Messenger about access to… well, everything. Read the policy here.This doesn’t reassure me at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of smartphone features like location services, but I keep it turned off most of the time. I put tape over my laptop’s camera. I keep my Fastrak devices in their little Mylar Faraday bags. Until someone can explain how my information is going to be used, I’ll opt out whenever possible. Which is a shame really, as that information could be really handy. I believe I could benefit from the big data-driven services that know me better. Yet I don’t trust them.
Most people don’t care. They’ve already forgotten who Eddie Snowden was, as shown in this investigative reporting feature.
That’s just not acceptable. If you’re running a big data program with PII, get your act together. It’s a moral imperative.