That's the mandate coming out of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington think tank that encourages responsible data practices and advances projects aimed at increasing transparency and control of online data, mobile data, apps, and social media in a "business practical manner."
Granted, the availability of abundant data provides the possibilities for great social and economic benefits, said Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the Future of Privacy Forum, and Omer Tene, associate professor at the College of Management Haim Striks School of Law, in a recent article on the Stanford Law Review site.
As one example of the benefits associated with the ability to analyze big data, Polonetsky and Tene point to the discovery of the link between Vioxx and 27,000 cardiac arrest deaths and the subsequent recall of the arthritis medicine. Another, they said, is Google Flu Trends, a tool using aggregate search queries to identify flu outbreaks by region. (AllAnalytics.com blogger Ariella Brown recently wrote about Google Flu Trends in her post, A Dose of Google Data for Doctors & Hospitals .)
I'd also add in HealthMap, which I discussed in my post, Tracking Disease at the Speed of Social Media. A project of Children’s Hospital Boston, HealthMap extracts disease and location data from thousands of information sources to deliver real-time disease tracking across the globe.
But this sort of big data project and the availability of limitless information fuel the fears of privacy advocates. They worry this unprecedented data access threatens an individual's ability to control, track, and understand what becomes of his or her personal data. Recent revelations that social networking giant Facebook collects data on the destinations of users leaving its pages further agitate those calling for greater regulations governing what data companies can collect about users.
As Polonetsky discusses in this video, many companies using data collected from customers are walking a tightrope. Failure to think through privacy policies could present a variety of difficulties.
The Future of Privacy Forum advocates a vigorous debate over the balance between individual rights and the benefits of data use by businesses and researchers to power innovation. Tene and Polonetsky argue that failure to have this debate could lead to a regulatory backlash. Potential dangers include a regulatory environment in which protection of all data as potentially private could stifle innovation. In such an environment, we might also see “perverse incentives,” with companies abandoning current privacy protections and increasing the risk of privacy and security issues.
How can companies strike a balance between big data access and privacy issues? Leave your comments on the board below.