Big Data is a term WPF uses to describe very large datasets and the technologies and practices of handling those datasets. Typically, Big Data datasets are so large that traditional database systems are not able to handle or analyze them.
Sources for Big Data are many and varied. They include web data, sensors, cell towers, census data and other data from the government, social media, transactional data, and a variety of other data collection systems.
We have seen a tendency to use the term Big Data as a loosely defined stand-in for a number of privacy issues that sound the same, but aren’t. For example, Big Data and Data Brokers are sometimes used together. The two ideas are distinct and different, and it is crucial for public policy and discussion that the two are not conflated as being the same thing or even a similar thing. It is possible to work with Big Data and never be a Data Broker.
Large datasets are intriguing to the World Privacy Forum, and our research on large datasets resulting from sensors and ID cards in Asia helped us understand and explore the issue in-depth. Large datasets sometimes present privacy challenges, but sometimes they do not. Much depends on how the dataflows are collected, managed, stored, and so forth. Understanding these differences and knowing when and where the challenges are is going to be important going forward in this rapidly evolving space.
Big Data and its potential for inclusion and exclusion was on center stage this past September as the FTC held a day-long workshop with experts from industry, technology, privacy, civil liberties, and academia. World Privacy Forum’s Executive Director Pam Dixon, a panelist at the event, spoke about Big Data and privacy, emphasizing several key points, including the need for statistical parity, fairness, and the need for keeping existing consumer protection regulation.
The Federal Trade Commission has announced its panelist roster and final agenda for its upcoming workshop, “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?.” The workshop is going to be an important and thoughtful discussion about big data and privacy issues, and will be taking place on Sept. 15 in Washington, D.C. The World Privacy
The World Privacy Forum filed comments with the U.S. Department of Commerce in response to its Request for Comments about big data, privacy, and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The White House Big Data report recognized that Big Data “raises considerable questions about how our framework for privacy protection applies in a big data ecosystem” and has the potential to “eclipse longstanding civil rights protections in how personal information is used in housing, credit, employment, health, education, and the marketplace.” This is among our concerns as well, and our comments focused on understanding big data’s benefits while drawing attention to where there are significant privacy risks that need to be addressed.
Two key recent reports published by the World Privacy Forum, The Scoring of America and Data Brokers and the Federal Government, were cited in the White House’s new report on Big Data. WPF is supportive of the report. “We are pleased that the White House report has correctly recognized critically important issues that impact individuals’ privacy in the area of big data. We commend the report for clearly recognizing that information originally intended for marketing purposes can also be used to impact individuals’ marketplace opportunities in substantive ways that impact peoples’ daily lives, and that creating meaningful protections is important,” said WPF executive director Pam Dixon.
The World Privacy Forum’s recent public comments to the White House regarding Big Data focus on using a foundation of Fair Information Principles to address issues connected to bias, error, and privacy regarding big data as applied to vulnerable populations. The comments also discuss large medical research data sets, and stress the importance of applying