Privacy Issues of Big Data

Big data has become a big business, but it also raises some big privacy concerns. First, big data often tries to avoid privacy issues through aggregation and anonymization of the data they collect — that is, they try to construe the data such that an individual’s data set cannot be linked or traced back to the individual. However, it has been shown that data that is not properly or thoroughly anonymized can be re-identified with the individual to whom the data belongs. As a result, big data companies take a risk if they disclose the data to third parties, and said third parties are able to re-identify the data with the individual it corresponds to which may result in a breach of privacy. As more and more volumes of data are collected, and analysis algorithms get better and better, it may become virtually impossible to fully anonymize data.

Another more subtle privacy issue of big data involves the individual’s ability to control the collection and/or use as well as the individual’s access to the information (usually for the purposes of verifying and correcting the information). Typically, privacy policies detail what private information is collected and what the information is used for — users then agree to the collection and use. With exceptions for certain industries like credit reporting, big data brokers generally do not have to provide individuals access to review or correct their information. Moreover, there generally is no direct connection between big data companies and the individuals whose information they collect. As a result, individuals rarely have an opportunity to assent to the collection or use of the data by big data companies. However, the federal government has taken an interest in heightening the regulation and the privacy protection for individuals when it comes to big data, so big data startups may to well to watch the developments in this area.