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Big Data and Privacy

Why data privacy might be the next big thing in big data

Remember when being “sent to your room” was considered one the harshest punishments a parent could dole out?

I certainly hated it, and I’m pretty sure my kids don’t like it much either. For whatever reason, this form of punishment – the ultimate act of isolation – seems to have stood the test of time. It’s also a great way to quickly introduce your children to the seven stages of grief:

  1. Stunned silence
  2. Screaming
  3. Kicking
  4. Pouting
  5. Kicking again
  6. Wailing
  7. Acceptance



But in today’s hyper-connected, always-on society, the whole notion of isolation is quickly becoming obsolete. So much so that forcing your child to spend time alone with their thoughts on a bed full of stuffed animals might be the last time they experience true and absolute privacy.

That organizations can tell whether or not someone is pregnant based on their buying habits is well-covered territory. In the U.S., the idea that organizations are always watching and learning from their customers is now just a part of life. In fact, in many cases, it’s celebrated. Run a search on Forbes.com for Big Data, and look at the headlines: You’ll see President Obama loves it. So apparently does Santa.

But Europe is a different beast. Protecting ones right to privacy – their “right to be forgotten” – is the subject of much scrutiny and handwringing as the EU seeks to more clearly define its data protection laws.

At issue is how long, and for what purpose a company can retain user data, what constitutes identifiable data and when and how that data must be “forgotten.”

An interesting article by GigaOm senior writer, David Meyer makes the case that big data makes it possible for analytics run against aggregated customer data to potentially be reverse engineered to reveal potentially identifiable information.

The process of sifting through and analyzing structured and unstructured data to gain new insights about customers is hardly new. Big data represents the evolution of the technology that allows you to perform these tasks in real time across massively distributed platforms and retain the data far longer.

And the longer the data is retained, the greater the risk of private or personally identifiable information (PII) – names, social security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers – being leaked or stolen. Some law firms are already gearing up for class action suits related to breached big data.

It will be interesting to see how the conversation of big data and privacy plays out. We’ll certainly be following it closely. As always, our advice to organizations spinning up big data projects is to think about data privacy from the beginning and encrypt everything.

More Stories By David Tishgart

After spending years at large corporations including Dell, AMD and BMC, David Tishgart joined the startup ranks leading product marketing for Gazzang. Focused on security for big data, he helps communicate the benefits and challenges that big data can present, offering practical solutions. When not ranting about encryption and key management, you can find David clamoring for a big data application that can fine tune his fantasy football team.

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