Big Data and the Future of Privacy
- Pew Survey: Vast Majority of Americans Feel Strongly About Privacy, Want Control Over Personal Information: The Pew Research Center has published a new privacy poll on Americans' Views About Data Collection and Security. According to the Pew survey, 74% of Americans believe control over personal information is "very important," yet only 9% believe they have such control.Americans also value having the ability to share confidential matters with another trusted person. The vast majority of Americans want limits on how long companies retain records about their activities. And 65% of American adults believe there are not adequate limits on the telephone and internet data that the government collects. (May. 20, 2015)
- EPIC Files Comments with FTC on Merger Review and Consumer Privacy: EPIC, along with 26 technical experts and legal scholars, has submitted extensive comments for the FTC's review of the merger remedy process. EPIC urged the Commission to consider the privacy risks to consumers that result from the merger of big data firms. The comments detailed EPIC's efforts, over 15 years, to warn the FTC about such mergers as Abacus and DoubleClick, then DoubleClick and Google, AOL and Time Warner, and most recently Facebook and WhatsApp. EPIC urged the FTC to asses both competitive and privacy impacts of merger, and to enforce privacy commitments prior to granting merger approval. (Mar. 18, 2015) More top news »
Big data is a term for the collection of sets of data that are large and complex and then analyzing these data sets for relationships. The size of these data sets prevents traditional methods of analyzing data to be effective. Rather than focusing on precise relationships between individual pieces of data, big data uses various algorithms and techniques to to infer general trends over the entire set. What counts is the quantity of the data, rather than its quality. It looks for the correlation rather than the causation, the what rather than the why.
Big data has only become possible in the last few years with advances in collection, storage, and interpretation of data. Datafication refers to reinterpreting information into usable sets of data. Data collection, from medicine, financial institutions, social networking, and many other fields, has exploded in recent years. Storage costs for this data have plummeted which lowers the required justification for holding onto data rather than discarding it. The costs and difficulty in processing this data has also dropped. These factors, along with better techniques for analyzing the data, have allowed relationships to be discovered in ways that would not have been possible in years past.
While there are many benefits to the growth of big data analytics, many traditional methods of privacy protections fail. Many notions of privacy rely on informed consent for the disclosure and use of an individual’s private data. However, big data means that data is a resource that can be used and reused, often in ways that were inconceivable at the time the data was collected. Anonymity is also eroded in a big data paradigm. Even if every individual piece of information is striped of personal information, the relationships between the individual pieces can reveal the individual's identity.
Following the President's speech speech on reform of the National Security Agency's bulk meta-data collection program under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, White House counselor John Podesta announced "a comprehensive review of the way that 'big data will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy." This was the first major privacy initiative announced by the White House since the release of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in 2012. The undertaking will involve key officials across the federal government, including the President’s Science Advisor and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
EPIC and a coalition of consumer groups has already written a letter, to John Holdren, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. EPIC urged OSTP to provide the public an opportunity to comment and suggested that the review take into consideration (but not be limited to) the following important questions about the role of Big Data in our society:
1) What potential harms arise from big data collection and how are these risks currently addressed?
(2) What are the legal frameworks currently governing big data, and are they adequate?
(3) How could companies and government agencies be more transparent in the use of big data, for example, by publishing algorithms?
(4) What technical measures could promote the benefits of big data while minimizing the privacy risks?
(5) What experience have other countries had trying to address the challenges of big data?
(6) What future trends concerning big data could inform the current debate?
On March 4, 2014, in response to suggestions from EPIC and other consumer privacy groups, the Office of Science and Technology Policy published a Request for Information, which provides the public an opportunity to comment on the Podesta Big Data Review. EPIC submitted comments to the Podesta Review, emphasizing how the current Big Data environment poses enormous risks to ordinary Americans. EPIC emphasized the data security risks and substantial risks to student privacy that exist in the current big data regulatory environment and called for the Administration to better implement the Fair Information Practices(FIPs) first set out in 1973.Other groups comments include: Center for Democracy and Technology, The Future of Privacy Forum, The Privacy Coalition, The Internet Association, The Consumer Federation of America, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
On May 1, 2014, the White House released the Big Data Privacy Report. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology ("PCAST") also released a report on the same day, entitled, "Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective."
Data brokers are large commercial organizations that collect vast swathes of data on millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of consumers in order to resell the data or utilize it in targeted marketing campaigns. Recently, the data broker industry as a whole has come under a great deal of scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Commerce Committee. FTC Commissioner Julie Brill has announced a new initiative, "Reclaim Your Name", which is designed to promote more transparency in the data broker industry and give consumers greater control over their individual data. The Senate Commerce Committee, under the leadership of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) undertook an examination of the data broker industry this past December, holding hearings, hearings on the issue, and releasing a report, A Review of the Data Broker Industry: Collection, Use, and Sale of Consumer Data for Marketing Purposes of their findings.
Most recently, Senator Rockefeller, along with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), released a bill entitled The Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act. This act is designed to provide some broad guidelines for regulating the data broker industry.
- Google is more than 1 million petabytes in size and processes more than 24 petabytes of data a day, a volume that is thousands of times the quantity of all printed material in the U.S. Library of Congress.
- 32 billion searches are performed each month on Twitter.
- More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month and over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube - that's almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year.
- 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years.
- In 2012, data was forecasted to double every two years through the year 2020.
- In 2020, the amount of digital data produced will exceed 40 zettabytes, which is the equivalent of 5,200 gigabytes for every man, woman and child on planet earth.
- * 1 Gigabyte = Approximately 1 full-length feature film in digital format; 1 Petabyte= One Million Gigabytes or a Quadrillion Bytes; 1 Exabyte = One Billion Gigabytes; 1 Zettabyte = One Trillion Gigabytes or One Million Petabytes.
- Nicholas Diakopoulos, Ph.D., Algorithmic Accountability Reporting: On The Investigation of Black Boxes, Tow Center for Digital Journalism (February 2014).
- Ryan Calo, Consumer Subject Review Boards: A Thought Experiment, 66 Stan. L. Rev. Online 97 (September 2013).
- Ian Kerr & Jessica Earle, Prediction, Preemption, Presumption: How Big Data Threatens Big Picture Privacy, 66 Stan. L. Rev. Online 65 (September 2013).
- Cynthia Dwork & Deirdre K. Mulligan, It's Not Privacy and It's Not Fair, 66 Stan. L. Rev. Online 35 (September 2013).
- Joseph Janes, As the Big Data beast fattens, will privacy and ethics get gobbled up?, Am. Libraries (May 2012).
- Ira S. Rubinstein, Big Data: The End of Privacy or a New Beginning?, N.Y.U. Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers, Paper No. 357 (2012).
- Frank Pasquale, Restoring Transparency to Automated Authority, 9 J. on Telecomm. & High Tech L. 235 (Winter 2011).
- danah boyd & Kate Crawford, Six Provocations for Big Data, A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society (September 2011).
- Paul Ohm, Broken Promises of Privacy: The Surprising Failure of Anonymization, 57 UCLA L. Rev. 1701 (2010).
- National Consumer Law Center, Big Data: A Big Disappointment for Scoring Consumer Credit Risk, March 2014.
- The White House and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Big Data Privacy Workshop: Advancing the State of the Art in Technology and Practice, March 3, 2014.
- Letter to OSTP regarding Big Data, February 10, 2014.
- MIT Big Data Initiative at CSAIL.
- John Podesta, Counselor to the President, Big Data and the Future of Privacy, January 23, 2014.
- President Obama, Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence, January 17, 2014.
- Privacy and Consumer Profiling, EPIC website.
- EPIC ChoicePoint, EPIC website.
- Big Data and Privacy: Making Ends Meet, Stanford Center for Internet and Society and the Future of Privacy Forum, September, 2013.
- Big Data and Big Challenges for Law and Legal Information, Georgetown University Law Center Legal Symposium: A Meeting of Minds on Data and Decision Making, January 30, 2013.
- Project Open Data, White House.
- Executive Order Implementing Project Open Data, White House.
- European Union, Article 29 working Party Report, Article 29 Working Party Committee.
- Rotenberg Testimony on "The Reform of the EU Data Protection Framework: Building Trust in a Digital and Global World, EPIC website.
- Julie Brill, Commissioner of the FTC, Big Data, Big Issues, Address at Forham University School of Law, March 12, 2012.
- Consumer Data Privacy Bill of Rights, White House, February 23, 2012.
- The Promise and Peril of Big Data, David Bollier, The Aspen Institute, January 1, 2010.
- Testimony by Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, on H.R. 2221, the Data Accountability and Trust Act, on May 5, 2009, EPIC website.
- Jeff Jonas, Big Data. New Physics. Jeff Jonas Blog, November 18, 2010.
- Jeff Jonas on Analytics IBM Data Protection and Law Policy Newsletter Jeff Jonas Interview.
- Jeff Jonas, Confessions of an Architect. Privacy By Design Slide Show Presentation.
- U.S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare, Report of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems, Records, Computers, and the Rights of Citizens, (The HEW Report) (MIT 1973).
- Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis, Eight, (No, Nine!) Problems Big Data, The New York Times, April 6, 2014.
- Harvard Magazine, Why "Big Data" is a Big Deal" March-April, 2014 Issue.
- Ed Pilkington, White House Urged to Open Up Review into Big Data and Privacy Threat, The Guardian, February 10, 2014.
- John Podesta, Big Data and the Future of Privacy, The White House, January 23, 2014.
- Marc Rotenberg, Obama Sets Good Course on Privacy Debate, CNN, January 17, 2014.
- The Guardian, The Data Store: On Big Data, The Guardian, 2014.
- Don Peck, They're Watching You at Work, The Atlantic, Nov. 20, 2013.
- Julie Brill, Demanding Transparency From Data Brokers, The Washington Post, August 15, 2013.
- Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, The Rise of Big Data: How It's Changing the Way We Think About the World, Foreign Affirs, June 2013.
- Kate Crawford, Think Again: Big Data, Foreign Policy Magazine, May 9, 2013.
- Jonathan Shaw, Why “Big Data” Is a Big Deal: Information science promises to change the world, Harvard Magazine, March - April, 2013.
- Steve Lohr, The Age of Big Data, The New York Times, February 11, 2012.
- The Wall Street Journal, What They Know Series, The Wall Street Journal, 2012.
- Natasha Singer, Data Privacy Put to the Test, New York Times, April 30, 2011.
Share this page:
EPIC relies on support from individual donors to pursue our work.
Subscribe to the EPIC Alert
The EPIC Alert is a biweekly newsletter highlighting emerging privacy issues.