Chipping Away at the Privacy Wall


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?

Noreen Seebacher,

Noreen Seebacher, the Community Editor of Investor Uprising, has been a business journalist for more than 20 years. A New York City based writer and editor, she has worked for numerous print and online publications. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the New York Post, New York’s Daily News, The Detroit News, and the Pittsburgh Press. She co-edited five newsletters for Real Estate Media’s GlobeSt.com and served as the site's technology editor.

She also championed the commercial real estate beat at The Journal News, a Gannett publication in suburban New York City, and co-founded a Website focused on personal finance. Through her own company, Stasa Media, Noreen has produced reports, whitepapers, and internal publications for a number of Fortune 500 clients. When she's not writing, editing, or Web surfing, she relaxes in an 1875 Victorian with her husband and their five kids, four formerly homeless cats, and a dog.

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Re: Privacy is toast (probably)
  • 11/30/2012 9:53:36 AM
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9/11 frightened too many people into thinking that privacy was a modest trade off for security.

Re: Privacy is toast (probably)
  • 11/30/2012 8:00:03 AM
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I think what we're seeing is the old frog in boiling water story.  If you slowly turn up the heat the frog will sit there until it dies, if you drop it into already boiling water if will try to escape.  Little by little privacy is being chipped away and we'll just adjust, I do think it will stop before we get to the 1984 vision of cameras watching us do our morning exercises, but I do think that eventually it will be very easy for companies to see what we are doing online and track us down by name.

Re: Privacy is toast (probably)
  • 11/29/2012 10:16:10 AM
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..

SaneIT writes


 

... I agree if you look at how the Obama campaign used the data that they had it seems foolish to think that we have any expectation of rules changing in our favor.  I read something the other day about them doing 10s of thousands of models every night to narrow down who to target and how to reach them.


 

Obama is regarded on the extreme right as something like the reincarnation of Lenin, and among the "progressive" (liberal) left as today's Great Multiracial "Progressive" Champion, but in reality he seems positioned more on the liberal wing of Wall Street (e.g., George Soros) and America's most mammoth industrial corporate power structure (e.g., Warren Buffett's BNSF Railroad).  Obama & Co. seem to have had no particular interest in protecting individual privacy, free speech, etc.

 

SaneIT also writes


The presidential race is a big deal but if you think about it they have less marketing money than most large corporations, what is going to happen when the big companies start doing what our government is already doing?


 

Makes me wonder if this will provoke a significant backlash, or whether most of the public will just bow down and get used to it...

 

Re: Privacy is toast (probably)
  • 11/29/2012 9:03:15 AM
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Interesting piece here:

President Barack Obama's campaign for re-election rested heavily on a busy data mining operation, complete with an analytics teams five times as big as the one in 2008, mysterious code names, and a chief number cruncher. Just what this operation was doing was held close to the vest during the campaign, but Time magazine's Michael Scherer got the inside scoop.



Read more: The big data behind Obama's campaign victory - FierceCIO http://www.fiercecio.com/story/big-data-behind-obamas-campaign-victory/2012-11-07#ixzz2DcWEmzGo

Re: Privacy is toast (probably)
  • 11/29/2012 8:23:35 AM
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@Lyndon_Henry, I agree if you look at how the Obama campaign used the data that they had it seems foolish to think that we have any expectation of rules changing in our favor.  I read something the other day about them doing 10s of thousands of models every night to narrow down who to target and how to reach them.  The presidential race is a big deal but if you think about it they have less marketing money than most large corporations, what is going to happen when the big companies start doing what our government is already doing?

Privacy is toast (probably)
  • 11/28/2012 11:18:49 PM
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..

Noreen writes


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?


 

I'm afraid I have an acute case of pessimism in regard to privacy.  They's a-gonna gitcha, no matter what you do.  The technology is exploding way too rapidly.  Legislation is far too clumsy to deal with it and provide any real or enduring "protection" for the public.

My hope is that the "exploding" technology will develop and provide countermeasure devices and procedures, available to the general public at reasonable cost, that will somewhat defeat the intrusions and mitigate the snooping.

 

Re: Facebook
  • 11/28/2012 7:26:58 PM
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I think Facebook is right to want to share data only to sites owned by them. If a third party wants to get info they should get it from the owners under a relevant "licence".

On a different note: Just suggesting that you could write something on the Obamacare data program and the proposed RFID chip implantation. I still can't find a good source to read on that.

Re: Facebook
  • 11/28/2012 3:50:50 PM
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Buried in the privacy debate is the unsettled question of who owns the collected data and with what rights and limitations. It is obvious in practice the data collector enjoys an open landscape to operate, with little implied or explicit restrictions. Views expressed on privacy have been mostly reactive to specific publicized occurances. The issues involved under privacy need clear distinction and definition for productive debate.  

Self-regulation & ethics
  • 11/28/2012 1:52:20 PM
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@Noreen, Judah Phillips (who will be hosting our Dec. 12 Webinar on social media analytics), has some great rules companies should apply to they're ensuring privacy and acting ethically with their use of social media data. He spells those out in Win With Advanced Analytics, for which he authored a few chapters, including on on social media analytics (as I mentioned in my blog today). He's got nine rules. Here are a few:

- Be absolutely transparent about what data you collect and how you collect it by creating and frequently updating a privacy and data usage policy and prominently displaying it on your site.

- Understand and be able to provide, on request, a list of the tracking and measurement technologies currently deployed on your site.

- Publish a simple metadata document that people, both externally and internally, can review that describes the social media data being collected and how the data will be used.

- Create formalized governance around measurement, tracking, and advertising technologies and involve your cross-functional representatives from teams across your company.

- Enable easy and logical "opt-out"

I especially like that third one. But don't recall ever seeing such in my social travels. Have you?

Facebook
  • 11/28/2012 1:46:55 PM
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Privacy is all over the news this week, what with the Facebook hoax and everything. But still:

Two consumer interest groups are asking Facebook to withdraw its proposed changes that would, among other issues, remove the ability for users to vote on modifications to Facebook's data usage and privacy policies. The company also wants to change how you filter incoming messages on Facebook, and Facebook wants to freely share user data between companies it owns, such as Instagram.

 

thoughts?

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