Privacy killed the Big Data star

Big Data is all about limiting our privacy. With Big Data, we get no privacy at all. Hello, Big Brother is watching us and we have to stop it right now!

Well, this is far too cruel. Big Data is NOT all about limiting our privacy. Just to make it clear: I see the benefits of Big Data. However, there are a lot of people out there that are afraid of Big Data because of privacy. The thing I want to state first: Big Data is not NSA, Privacy, Facebook or whatever surveillance technology you can think of. Of course, it is often enabled by Big Data technologies. I see this discussion often and I recently came across an event, that stated stated that Big Data is bad and it limits our privacy. I say, this is bullsh##.

The event I am talking about stated that Big Data is bad, it is limiting our privacy and it needs to be stopped. It is a statement that only sees one side of the topic. I agree that the continuous monitoring of people by secret services isn’t great and we need to do something about it. But this is not Big Data. I agree that Facebook is limiting my privacy. I significantly reduced the amount of time spending on Facebook and don’t use the mobile Apps. This needs to change.

However, this not Big Data. This are companies/organisations doing something that is not ok. Big Data is much more than that. Big Data is not just evil, it is great for many aspects:

  • Big Data in healthcare can save thousands, if not millions of lives by improving medicine, vaccination and finding correlations for chronically ill people to improve their treatment. Nowadays, we can decode the DNA in short time, which helps a lot of people!
  • Big Data in agriculture can improve how we produce foods. Since the global population is growing, we need to get more productive in order to feed everyone.
  • Big Data can improve the stability and reliability of IT systems by providing real-time analytics. Logs are analysed in real-time to react to incidents before they happen.
  • Big Data can – and actually does – improve the reliability of devices and machines. An example is that of medicine devices. A company in this field could reduce the time the devices had an outage from weeks to only hours! This does not just save money, it also saves lives!
  • There are many other use-cases in that field, where Big Data is great

We need to start to work together instead of just calling something bad because it seems to be so. No technology is good or evil, there are always some bad things but also some good things. It is necessary to see all sides of a technology. The conference I was talking about gave me the inspiration to write this article as it is so small-minded.

Data Protection legislation killed Big Data. Did it?

In Europe, it is rather difficult to get into the different member states legislation to find out how to apply data driven applications that are in accordance with the regional laws. The save-harbour principle tells us basically, that data that is referring to a specific person, may not leave Europe. But what does that mean?

Especially US Cloud and Big Data providers might find this difficult, sind the US law forces these companies to share the data with the US government (especially the intelligence services). This means a conflict in legislation itself. American companies are somewhat under heavy pressure in loosing large european customers that want their data “save” – from a legal point of view.

Another problem is associated with the collection and storage of personal data. If we look at (not only) social media platforms, once you post something, it is there forever – even though you delete it.

If we focus on retail, what does that mean? Many of us have customer benefit program cards, which eventually means that data about our behaviour is collected. This gives us the possibility to get discounts that fit our behaviour and needs and allows the retail companies better marketing. On the other hand, what happens if I want my data deleted? As of now, I am not aware of any legal aspects of that. What happens with my data? Will it stay forever with the retail company and is there anything I can do about it?

What we need is a liberal but still good data protection standard that helps the individual and the economy – full security for individuals isn’t possible, but companies should’t be allowed to do all. We need to meet somewhere in the middle, which might be a difficult task for the next years.

I invite you to join the discussion about that!