In an increasingly digital world full of increasingly powerful computers, there's a mounting concern that our notion of privacy is becoming outmoded. The ease with which data is accessed is, to some, shocking -- equally as shocking is how willing some people are to reveal this information themselves.
The collection and analysis of large sets of data has come to be vital to the operation of numerous enterprises, ranging from retail advertising to the recent presidential election, where big-data guided perhaps the most precise voter recruitment programs to date. Ironically, or perhaps not, depending on your view of politics, it is now incumbent on the president to place limitations on the very field that was such a benefit to him in its unregulated form.
Regardless of who is handling the data, whether the US president or an advertising firm, there's a growing recognition of the need to protect the privacy of the public in the digital sphere via the limitation of consumer tracking. As it stands, regulation is poor. There is little that can be done to block the purchase and sale of personal information, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), charged with the enforcement of what few laws are in place, is ineffectual at best.
Charged primarily with ensuring that companies that offer privacy policies abide by them, the commission nonetheless lacks the ability to impose penalties when transgressions occur. Further, companies lacking privacy policies are virtually outside the authority of the FTC.
The Obama administration sought to address these problems with its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which it began pushing in the opening months of 2012. The bill, which isn't so much a law as a code of conduct that legally binds cooperative companies to its guidelines, grants the FTC much-needed authority to prosecute should the bill's constituents fail to live up to their commitments.
The bill further ensures transparency in the privacy practices and information distribution of participating companies, bars the utilization of information outside of the context in which it was collected, allows consumers to access and correct personal data, and provides consumers with the ability to control what data is collected from them and how it is used.
The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights would certainly have an effect on big-data analysis, but the question is how significantly the data pool would contract when these anti-tracking measures are fully implemented. Will the ability to consistently collect and organize salient information noticeably decrease? Would the accuracy of constructed models suffer due to missing inputs? Will it really take a byte out of big-data -- or just be another weak attempt to control something that defies control?