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Data Privacy In The Age Of Transparency

19 February, 2015

Data Privacy In The Age Of Transparency

With recent data breaches happening around the country, people are becoming increasingly concerned with the privacy and protections surrounding their personal information. In a digital age, where virtually all information is stored in databases online and in the cloud, the possibility of a data breach is increasingly possible.

Concerns arise because it’s no longer just intelligence agencies collecting and monitoring information from consumers. Advanced big data tools allow individuals all around the world to draw insights from public data. Consider, for instance, Facebook’s facial recognition feature that determines who is who in your uploaded photos. While it may appear to be intrusive, it also provides Facebook users with the benefit of easily tagging their friends in pictures.

Are concerns over privacy overblown? Probably not. Until we start having more conversations about how to protect sensitive information in the age of transparency, privacy advocates will remain at loggerheads with big data advocates.

Big data regulations

Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. Because of this significant influx of data, the collection and storage of big data is difficult to regulate as it is continually growing and changing. On top of its massive scope, companies and organizations collect, store and trade data across multiple countries and jurisdictions.

While lawmakers attempt to find solutions to these big data problems, it’s difficult to find common ground between government entities and private organizations.

The age of transparency

Are privacy concerns overrated? Do societal benefits of transparency outweigh the individual risks? There isn’t an easy answer to that question right now.

An overview on data privacy from the Electronic Privacy Information Center explained big data processes this way: “Rather than focusing on precise relationships between individual pieces of data, big data uses various algorithms and techniques to infer general trends over the entire set.”

Consider the benefits of greater transparency. Opening up data across multiple channels gives us insight into understanding a greater picture. For example, medical data can give doctors and researchers the opportunity to find correlations between patient cases to potentially find cures for diseases. One way to combat privacy concerns in this scenario would be to enlist differential privacy, which would allow people to make statistical queries on data records without having access to the actual data sets.

Both sides of the privacy argument have valid concerns that will continue to be addressed in both the private and public sectors. Big data is here to stay and privacy matters will need to be weighed against the benefits that access to personal information will have for both businesses and society as a whole.

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