25 Apr 2013
In virtually every country there is a debate around privacy, driven most recently by the rise of Big Data, social networks and technology more generally. Without doubt, the major technology companies recognise the value of the information they are collecting from individuals and are working very hard to minimise the impact of privacy changes by putting as much control as possible in the hands of the individual.
This debate will only intensify as the social networks push to also own the identity space. Just look at the number of websites that encourage you to use Facebook, Google or similar services to log in. In doing so, yet more of your data is available to these businesses which you are providing in exchange for the service of having your identity conveniently confirmed.
Citizens and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their personal information and hence are looking for more privacy options. The default position of governments has been to revisit their privacy regulations. This approach, though, is doomed from the start as no regulation can possibly keep up with this rapidly developing information economy.
In fact, it is likely to be economic forces that will provide the solution to the privacy risks of Big Data. Both government and businesses are beginning to realise that they can make individuals much more comfortable to share their data if rather than providing an almost infinite (and incomprehensible) set of privacy settings they simply renounce any attempt at taking over ownership of the data and simply borrow or lease it with the permission of the true owner – you.
This approach is referred to as personally controlled records and is made possible by the databases that support the growth of Big Data. No longer is it necessary to extract every piece of information and replicate it many times over in order to support complex analytics. Rather it can be packaged as a neat record, kept in the control of the individual and purged upon expiry or the revocation of the lease that has been provided.
Rather than reducing the value to business and government, this approach actually opens up a huge array of new possibilities and leaves the individual in control. The evidence is growing that when people feel confident that they can withdraw their information at any time and are not at risk of unintended consequences they are much more willing to submit their data for a wide array of purposes.
The protection of the individual in a world of Big Data is not through better privacy, but rather through clarifying who actually owns the data and ensuring that their rights are maintained.
Hear more in a Sky News interview I provided recently on trends in technology.