Monday, November 12, 2012

Big Data and Privacy

I am writing an editorial (which is unusual for me). This was caused by a conversation I had with my Dad about how the world is changing with big data, and how much retiree's (like him) should know.  So here goes.

Dear Dad,

  I know you are involved in college education for Older folks that have a passion to learn.  An interesting topic would be "Big Data".  For someone outside the IT field, I would tell you that Big Data describes the plethora of new data that is generated in today's society.
Where does it come from ??

  • Logs from webservers 
  • Cell phones (including location data).
  • Search data
  • Medical data
  • Machine generated data (like from your computer in your car)
  • Sales data
All this can be tied together in new ways, that most people didn't think were possible years ago.  My favorite example is... You are walking in the mall past past a store, and you get a text on your phone.  The store's computer system has texted you a 30% offer for a new sweater, good for 2 hours.  The store knows ...
  • Your location from phone
  • That you have a ski trip planned for the next week, from your search history, and purchase history
  • That you are looking for a new sweater from your facebook, and twitter posts.
Amazing huh ?

All these things can open up miraculous possibilities. The day may come when your doctor calls you to schedule a preventive test.  Medical history gathered from a large group of people has shown that others with a similar medical history as yours have had a issue that can be tested for and prevented. Wow. really amazing things.

They can predict something that may go wrong on your car given all the information the computer has gathered.

Target (the department store), has even predicted when a woman is pregnant based on purchase history.. 

All these things are amazing possiblities, but they are also scary.

I find this topic very exciting, but I'm sure for a lot of people these ideas are very scary. Where do you cross the line and enter privacy issues.

This is going to be a interesting battle. Who ones all this data ? what data is public, and what data is private ?

But the most interesting thing is what can be done with the data....

Me, I'm an optimist so I can all the good that can come out of all this new data.

At the very least, the students would at least have a better idea what is going on in the world (behind the scenes), and they would understand why Target things "grandma" is pregnant.

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