Thursday, 7 August 2014

Big Data - New Rules of the Game

Big Data is like water, fire and earth. Just like water, Big Data is continuously flowing, but if mismanaged, it can burn you like fire. And just like earth, it provides a platform for prosperity and growth. But as more and more personal data is being circulated, stored and disseminated, the risk of privacy breach is becoming a global issue.

I recently met a friend who talked about an interesting incident:

I do not use Whatsapp, and I have not even downloaded it nor tried it. However, one day I got a text message from my wife saying that I should download Whatsapp. Later that day I mention the text message to my wife, and she claims never to have sent that message. I got really curious about what had happened and felt perplexed about the whole situation.’

Who sent that message? Should situations like these present themselves, even though every human has a right to privacy under the European Convention of Human Rights Article 8?

As it occurs, when you agree to the terms and conditions before using Whatsapp, one of the over 5,000 legal clauses state that the company has the right to use your mobile phone’s contact list for advertising and marketing purposes. Thus, there is nothing illegal about what Whatsapp is doing, even though it might make you feel like your privacy has been compromised.

With the accelerated generation of new public and private data, the existing data sets become increasingly more valuable, and as the cost of data acquisition and data mining is getting lower, a new wave of legal and ethical issues emerge; who actually owns the data and for what purpose can it be used? The ethical problems arise when data owners differ from data users enabling the modification and distortion of the content and function of the original data. From a legal point of view, things get more complex, because the extrapolated data belongs to the one who has performed the analysis.


As the data is generated and refined under proprietary methods, the entity performing the value-adding analysis becomes the owner of the data and should be able to trace the information back to its original source. The fact remains that data is global but the governing bodies of law differ from country to country relating to different types of data and how the data is being used. It is a fair assumption that law will always trail the advancements in technology.

As Adam Rose, an information lawyer at Mishcon de Reya in London, says, 'data protection law seeks to make the data controller (who decides the purpose for which data is collected) act responsibly towards the data subject (the individual whose data is being processed) – as with many areas of technology law, legislators always struggle to keep up with fast moving tech, and Big Data and the Internet of Things are definitely challenging the boundaries of the current legal framework.'

The data analytics market is growing rapidly as companies develop in-house capabilities or out-source analysis to external providers. The benefits for corporations leveraging Big Data are 1) generation of new business insights, 2) improving businesses’ core operations, 3) improving the decision-making process, and 4) being able to leverage changing value chains. As a result, companies are able to deliver better value for customers and navigate more efficiently through a global landscape where industry borders are shifting. As data analytics plays an increasingly important part in profitability, effectively every company becomes a tech company.

Apart from the risk of privacy breach, for the consumer, this is a good thing, because it is bringing us nearer to the companies by allowing us to seamlessly interact and engage with our service providers. The consumer develops growing expectations to receive personalised and targeted communication through the channel of their choice. We organise our lives through our mobile phones and consequently, create new patterns of consumption, which in turn will develop new innovative business models designed to satisfy the evolving set of customer needs. If anything, Big Data empowers the customer by supporting the way we want to live our lives.

Big Data is a broad concept meaning everything and nothing at the same time. It presents great opportunities for companies and consumers alike, but also raises risks of non-compliance and privacy issues. As we cannot escape the Big Data trend, we should think pragmatically and learn to live by it and foster it for the greater good. This means that companies should focus on data compliance and transparency of information sharing, and consumers should be wary of how their personal data can be used for and educate themselves about privacy control. To simplify, here are three things that individuals should do to protect their personal data:

1) Get a secure connection through a VPN protector utilising a third party server
2) Use Disconnect or Mozilla’s Lightbeam, and
3) Avoid free wifi networks as they collect consumer data for free.

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