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"Big data, little privacy?" leads to sizable discussion

January 27, 2014

With a series of recent data breaches as the backdrop, IBM engaged big data and privacy experts as guests in a Twitter chat on Wednesday, January 22, entitled “Big Data, Little Privacy?” The chat, intended to be a spirited discussion regarding data privacy in the era of big data, did not disappoint.

It was clear from the beginning that there was going to be debate.

When one Twitter participant responded to the very first question with the assertion that it was “never” acceptable to use data without permission, several experts jumped in quickly (See the list of questions and the expert panel here).

In response, several chat participants, including Thomas Deutsch (@thomasdeutsch) and James Kobielus (@JamesKobielus, pointed out nuances in publically available data, differences in the ways countries treat data, the possibility of implied consent and even suggestions that a customer’s comfort-level should dictate the use of data in absence of explicit permission.

Over the course of the hour, much was debated, but here are a few notable highlights:

When asked whether an organization should rely on legislation to dictate privacy/protection investments, most of our expert panelists agreed this was a bare minimum. James Kobielus (@JamesKobielus) pointed out that customer sensitivities should also be considered.

David Corrigan (@DCorrigan) turned the question on its head and suggested that, with the right investment, privacy could actually be used by organizations as a differentiator.

Chat participants were asked if the market punishes those that do not protect data. Lee and Martha Bennett (@Martha_Bennett) of Forrester turned to the recent and well publicized North American retailing example of Target.

Interestingly, only a day before, the retailer’s stock price had hit a 52-week low, providing further evidence that investors were not tolerant of the data breach nor the associated cleanup costs. Even more interestingly, several chat participants suggest that they now have a cash-only policy when it comes to that retailer.

Experts almost unanimously agreed that there were barriers with implementing privacy technology in big data environments. Expert panelist Vishal Kumar (@VishalTx) highlighted the lack of standards as a barrier.  

Other considerations were considered as important. The topic of governance was widely held as critical to success: policies/processes, people and technology as they pertain to security and privacy. It was also noted that the enforcement of processes and policies were where the technology could help most effectively.

While it certainly doesn’t sum up the entire conversation, I hope that gives you a flavor for the topics and you’ll join us next time.

Visit us for more information about Data Security and Privacy, or to learn more about IBM’s data privacy solutions. Don't forget to join our weekly Twitter chats every Wednesday at 12:00 p.m. ET, using the hashtag #bigdatamgmt.